The best we can offer

Every creative endeavour becomes a realisation of both how limited and unlimited we are.*
(Erwin McManus)

May the work fit the rhythm of your soul,
Enabling you to draw from the invisible
New Ideas and vision that will inspire.**

(John O’Donohue)

There are basically two ways for helping someone thrive. We can get out of their way and so remove an obstacle, or we can lean in and give them all the support they need from us.

The first is a derivation of Nassim Taleb’s silver rule: do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you; the second derives from Jesus of Nazerath’s golden rule: do to others as you would have them do to you.

Both ways are valuable. Both demand that we know ourselves and respect each other.

(*From Erwin McManus’ The Artisan Soul.)
(**From John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us: For a New Position.)

Requirements for a meaningful life

I intend to look at technology the way [C. P.] Macpherson looked at democracy, as ideas and dreams, as practices and procedures, as hopes and myths.*
(Ursula Franklin)

What works for democracy and technology also provides what we need for a meaningful life.

We need ideas and dreams to imagine and explore more, practices and procedures to move from ideas into behaviour and activity, and, personal myths and stories of hope for carrying these on a journey every day.

These are not fixed, and as life opens before us, they’ll continue to grow and expand. Time used i these ways will never be wasted.

(*From Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology.)

And along comes another question

Just when you think you know all the answers, the universe comes along and changes the questions.*
(Jorge Francisco Pinto)

We can move so fast when we have the answers, but new questions slow us down. And that’s not bad because great questions change us.

Questions about the environment, valuing all people equally and truthfulness are three that come to mind when I think of the times we are living in.

What are the questions that come to mind for you?

(Jorge Francisco Pinto, quoted in Albert Espinosa’s If you tell Me to Come, I’ll Drop Everything, Just Tell Me to Come.)

Out of the randomness

New research confirms that random choices lead to preferences, and then it follows that preferences lead to habits and habits lead us to become the person we somehow decide we were born to be.*
(Seth Godin)

While finite games are externally defined, infinite games are internally defined. The time of an infinite game is not world-time but the time created within the play itself. Since each play of an infinite game eliminates boundaries it opens to players a new horizon of time.**
(James Carse)

As far as we know, humans are the only creatures whose lives don’t go round and around with the seasons, understanding our lives can be on a journey to the future we want to be meaningful.

It all begins in the interesting place that is randomness, when we choose this rather than that. When this has been happening for around eighteen to twenty years, you end up with something really interesting: you.

Slowing down to notice who you are allows you to realise that you really like the things that have become: powerful values, talents and creative energies.

I included James Carse’s words because they provide one way of spotting the things we love most of all. Notice the things you do when time looks and feels different., when you’re not reacting to the time of others but are making your own time.

One of the exciting things about all of this randomness is how it leads to people who have a deep joy in what they do meeting the greatest needs in the world.

Each year, I work with a small number of people to notice the story that’s been developing in all of the randomness. If you would like to know more about this, drop me a line at geoffrey@thinsilence.org.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: We like what we choose.)
(**From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

Over to us

The rules of an infinite game must change in the course of a game. The rules are changed when the players of an infinite game agree that the play is imperilled by a finite outcome – that is, victory of some players and the defeat of others.*
(James Carse)

We not only create stories or metaphors for life, we create them as metaphors for a meaningful life. To live meaningfully is to be at perpetual risk. […]. If, should the protagonist fail, life would be back to normal, the story is not worth telling.**
(Robert McKee)

Ursula Franklin wonders why we have birth control but not machine control, human demography but not machine demography. It’s one example, she believes, of how our thinking has changed:

Just as prescriptive technologies have, in the real world of technology, over-whelmed holistic ones, so have production models now become almost the only pattern of guidance for public and private thought and action.^

When James Carse writes about infinite games, he is thinking more about people at the heart of holistic and growth technologies. To use his argument of infinite players knowing that sometimes they have to play finite games, sometimes we must use more prescriptive and production technologies, but in service of people. Obversely, Carse points out, finite players struggle to see a bigger game, an infinite one. Here is our dilemma when in the heartland of continent of finite thinking, we do no know there are oceans and beyond.

Robert McKee is also imagining growth and holism over prescription and production when he writes of how we are searching for meaningful life and want our stories and metaphors to reflect this – these would be technologies in Franklin’s way of thinking. When McKee writes about risk, he is imagining growth, and when he mentions normal, he is thinking of prescription. Growth requires risk, taking us into the unknown, stretching into the plentiful-more, and then, as Lewis Hyde points out:

The revelation of plenitude calls for a revelation of mind.^^

We grow, we change, we transform.

(*From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)
(*From Robert McKee‘s newsletter: A Little Risk Goes a Long Way.)
^From Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology.)
(^^From Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World.)

What is it?

Children know something that most people have forgotten. Children possess a fascination with their everyday existence that is very special and would be very helpful to adults if they could learn to understand and respect it.*
(Keith Haring)

While working on a painting project with the five hundred students at a Chicago high school, Keith Haring was approached by one who said:

I can tell, by the way you paint, that you really love life.**

Wouldn’t it be something to rediscover our everyday fascination with our everyday existence, whatever it is we do, and to help others find theirs.

The wonderful thing is, it’s possible.

What is it?
How does it work?
Who did that?
Why does that happen?

(*Keith Haring, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Drawing on Walls.)
(**From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Drawing on Walls.)

Vernation

the true advances of my life could not be brought about by force but occur silently, and that I prepare for them while working quietly and with concentration on the things that on a deep level I recognise to be my tasks*
(Rainer Maria Rilke)

vernation/vəːˈneɪʃ(ə)n/nounBOTANY

  1. the arrangement of bud scales or young leaves in a leaf bud before it opens.

Here is the point Ursula Franklin makes and I mentioned a few days ago: Growth is not made but occurs.

We must each attend to those things we believe our lives to be about and the growth we do not know the limits of will take place.

What if, to use a word Robert Macfarlane introduced me to today, we are in a state of vernation, still to unfurl into the possibility of who we can be and what we can bring?

We must remind ourselves to be about those things today we know are our deeper tasks.

(*From Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters on Life.)

The alternative

Life, which is infinitely abundant, infinitely generous, may be cruel only on the basis of its inexhaustibility: in how many cases has life lost altogether all claims for its validity because it has been repressed by so many secondary institutions that have grown lethargic in their existence.*
(Rainer Maria Rilke)

The alternative may be you.

Just saying.

Rainer Maria Rilke places his hope in life that is infinitely abundant and generous, but not irrepressible, able to fall victim to that which is tired or lost its way or going through the motions. There is an alternative, though:

Is there anyone who would not frequently wish for a ferocious storm that could tear down everything that stands in the way and that is already in decline to clear space for the newly creative, infinitely young, infinitely well-intentioned.*

Rilke causes me to remember my friend Alex McManus‘ words that the future will appear through foresight, intention and love.

There is a problem in Rilke’s mind for intentions alone can dissipate energy:

But there is nothing more reckless than intentions: you exhaust yourself in them by forming and by reinforcing them, and the there is nothing left for the act of carrying them out.*

Better to begin sooner rather than later, and one way we can do this is by creating some disequilibrium through giving. Giving connects us with our energy and we are able to create an alternative to what is, as Erich Fromm underlines here:

Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This … fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous … in the art of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.**

(*From Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters on Life.)
(**From Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving.)

A product of our times

How do you bump into the thing you didn’t know you were looking for*
(Seth Godin)

Machines have sped up and lives have kept pace with them.**
(Rebecca Solnit)

I must go more slowly.

When we talk technology, we’re often thinking machines that enable us to do more faster, but Ursula Franklin highlights how, in simplest terms, technologies are processes comprising two forms: growth and production. Here we have a dilemma – we can make things fast but we cannot grow things fast:

Growth occurs; it is not made.^

Franklin offers an example of a growth technology that has been turned into a production technology:

if there ever was a holistic process, a process that cannot be divided into rigid, predetermined steps, it is education^.

Janine Benyus offers another example following witnessing the most devastating hail storm in a decade experienced in a corner of Minnesota:

Today’s farmer in Southwestern Minnesota has a huge, spread, and because the fields are planted in one species, one variety, and one growth stage, the losses, when they come, are catastrophic.^^

Maybe what we hope to find needs to be grown, not made?

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Organised for browsing.)
(**From Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(^From Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology.)
(^^From Janin Benyus’ Biomimicry.)

The untrue inside the true

The goal could be to become useful, remarkable and worth seeking out. To do something that’s hard to replace, groundbreaking or thrilling. Generous work that makes things better.*
(Seth Godin)

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.**
(Jesus of Nazareth)

Humility is most accurately about knowing ourselves and what it is we can do, including how we can continue to grow and what we are able to imagine and aspire to.

Rainer Maria Rilke writes about not waiting for circumstances to be right but to become people the people who begin whatever these may be:

Not to wait (which has been happening until now) for powerful things and good days to turn you into something but to preempt them and to be it yourself already: this is what you ought to be capable of at some point.^

Some time ago, I was having problems in my work and I felt like giving up, but I made the decision not to blame the circumstances or the people who made these but to take responsibility. Many years later I would read:

The real block is inside the true one. The real problem is the untrue limiting assumption smirking in there […].^^

Nancy Kline’s words point to the untrue assumption that lies behind the true, and helps me to make more sense of how I was right not to assume everything was okay in me, even though my reading of my situation was pretty accurate. This allowed me to start out on a path of necessary personal development and creating the work I love to do, a path I still find myself on twenty two years later.

Your reading of circumstances may be accurate and true, but that won’t help you. Look within and find the untrue assumption about who you are and what you can do that is preventing you from being the only you and bringing your art into the world.

Replace the untruth with the truth.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: It turns out that “beiger” isn’t a word.)
(**Matthew 5:5)
(^From Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letter on Life.)
(^^From Nancy Kline’s More Time to Think.)