Let us begin

May I live this day
Compassionate of heart,
Gentle in word,
Gracious in awareness,
Courageous in thought,
Generous in love.*
(John O’Donohue)

It is here where the synergistic interplay of courage, wisdom and generosity make us most creative.**
(Erwin McManus)

This is where I desire to be each day, the morning calling me to the place of humility, gratitude and faithfulness.

(*From John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes.)
(**From Erwin McManus’ Uprising.)

For those who would hang around

To say YES YES to what we behold. To what is titles, depraved, ugly, vacant, and to what is graceful, endearing, noble – equally. It will not do to leave out the violence we cannot bear – the intimacy, the banality, the blasphemy, the holiness we cannot bear. It simply will not do.*
(M. C. Richards)

M. C. Richards is inviting us to experience cosmos and so to love all of life:

I think love is fostered by a capacity to experience cosmos.*

Yes Yes is openness.

I must appear witless to some, depraved to others, ugly and certainly sometime vacant, but don’t give up on me. Hang around a while.

It happened that on this same morning I listened to the beauty and wonder held within Marie Howe’s poem Singularity (which I will close with and invite you to experience Howe’s reading of this with a specially commissioned video).

I am arrested whilst following the words from and to

a tiny dot bringing with
is is is is is
All everything home.**

Beauty and wonder in so many ordinary lives, an expression of singularity.

From her own experience as a potter, poet and educator, Richards senses this universe speaking to her as she gives form to what she did not know until allowing it expression. She encourages us to see that in many different things this same universe will speak to each of us:

The pot, the poem, the lesson – the universe speaks in forms that tell us of our own. A vast theatre whose architecture, whose movement and sound, whose episodes have us billed in cosmic roles, speaking lives we cannot memorise for we know them for the first time consciously only when we utter them, developing character and destiny amid what scenery!*

Had I only gleaned one thought from Richards’ entire book, this would have been worth the price, and more. We have all been provided with such an opportunity, none more valuable than another – such measurements are simply lines we draw:

A symphony of soloists playing simultaneously in a composition the structure of which has been given by the composer, but the music of which, the individual sounds of which, are the choices of each performer.*

Yes Yes to all.

Yes Yes to one another.

Yes Yes to Self.

Yes Yes to our world and all its fauna and flora.

Whether composer or singularity appeals more, or both together, we will need to leave the purely functional and practical, and certainly the industrial, and touch the particular and peculiar art that is our response to being here:

Art creates images of that world that moves within the world. And it is this realm which embodies itself continuously. From day to day in our bodies. From page to page in our writing. From canvas to canvas, stone to stone, dust to dust, the pot returneth.*

From his exploring of stories and myths from thousands of years, Joseph Campbell writes for our present times:

One way or another we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life and dedicate ourselves to that.^

Before all of this, though, a recalibration, a resetting, to imagine the world as one tiny expression of endless possibility within a great singularity. Within this world, your life, one tiny expression of endless possibility within a great singularity.

I will hang around to see that.

SINGULARITY
by Marie Howe

          (after Stephen Hawking)

Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?

so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money — 

nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone

pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.

For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you.
   Remember?

There was no   Nature.    No
 them.   No tests

to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf    or if 

the coral reef feels pain.    Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;

would that we could wake up   to what we were
— when we were ocean    and before that 

to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was
liquid and stars were space and space was not

at all — nothing

before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.

Can molecules recall it?
what once was?    before anything happened?

No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb      no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with 

is is is is is

All   everything   home

(*From M. C. Richards’ Centering.)
(**From Marie Howe’s poem Singularity quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Singularity.)
(^From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)

The universe you have always been and we are now discovering

Characterisation denotes a character’s appearance, the sum of all surface traits and behaviours. […] Characterisation alone is not character. But the skilled writer knows how to wield this as a tool in their effort to carve a fully dimensionalised protagonist and supporting cast.*
(Robert McKee)

I would rather wonder than know. […] I think wondering is a way of inhabiting and lingering. There seems to be more dwelling. To dwell, inhabit, and linger. I’m interested in those things. And you can do that when you don’t know. […] I would rather inhabit the question, or dwell. For me, that is the place I want to live in.**
(Mary Ruefle)

Robert McKee’s ideas on how to ‘carve a full dimensionalised protagonist’ help us to imagine becoming fully developing people.

The distinction between character and characterisation makes it possible for the writer to intrigue, to convince and to individualise. Otherwise they create predictable and unengaging characters for their audience.

Mary Ruefle’s words charmed me when I read them as they reminded me of the thing I love most about my work with all kinds of people. There is no end to the wonder to be discovered in people because we can never plumb the depths within each other or ourselves: there is always more.

Wonder causes us to stay, whilst knowledge makes it possible for us to move on to the next thing, the next person. In wonder, we find it possible to integrate our inside and outside worlds: our motivations and passions and heart with our traits and intentions and work:

May the light of your soul bless your work
with love and warmth of heart.
May you see what you do the beauty of the soul^

writes John O’Donohue;

Integrity not only harnesses our passions but focuses our intentions^^

reflects Erwin McManus.

The question is, how might we grow, and help each other to grow, an intriguing, convincing and individualised or unique life?

It is, Ruefle proffers, to dwell, to inhabit and to linger.

Far from finding boring people, we come upon persons of wonder.

(*From Robert McKee’s newsletter: How to Maximise Your Characterisation.)
(**Mary Ruefle, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: To Wonder Rather Than Know.)
(^From Joh O’Donohoe’s To Bless the Space Between Us: For Work.)
(^^From Erwin McManus’ Stand Against the Wind.)

Human by design

You’ll ask what would seem to be the obvious, except nobody’s seriously thought about it.*
(Paula Scher)

Read, look into other areas, use different learning mediums, ask better questions, reflect, be open to ideas, be surrounded by learners, and prioritise learning.**
(Michael Heppell)

Ask twenty people what they understand design to be and you’ll get twenty different answers.

Not surprising really given that design is one of the defining features of the human species. We have covered the planet in our designs and would have to travel a long way from home to find somewhere untouched by human design.

Of course, this flags up how design can be both good and bad, and the bad has left us in a predicament; we now know we have to get better at designing if we’re going to survive.

We’re all a part of this because we’re all designers, though we can forget this, thinking that designing is something people called designers do. But design begins with things we can all do: looking and listening, asking the stupid question, followed by the hard work of learning and imagining and making.

Soon enough, you’ll find yourself designing and making possibilities in areas of your own curiosity and interest. There’ll be people who want to collaborate with you, too.

It’s how we change the world.

(*Paula Scher, quoted in Warren Berger’s Glimmer.)
(**From Michael Heppell’s The Edge.)

Growing up, growing up

I am bigger than this! And may I be helped to grow to my full size.*
(M. C. Richards)

Growing up is not a linear thing. It’s why we can be ninety and still have plenty of growing up to do. We can go back to places and subjects and challenges and possibilities we had thought far behind us and take them into our becoming the fullness of who we can be as we travel to our limits.

When we get out of the way of ourselves and others growing up, we become teachers of one another in the way M. C. Richards describes here:

a good teacher is taught by her students. For she is not to teach them merely what she knows but to help to bring to maturity what is already in them. It takes, of course, a very good ear, to hear what is present in a child, or an adult.**

This thought transports me to the gallery in Florence inhabited by Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures: four figures escaping their stone prisons, as it were. We are teachers when we help free the person who is within each other.

(*From M. C. Richards’ Centering.)

Grace and truth

The thing to do is learn to live in your period of history as a human being.*
(Joseph Campbell)

True worth […] inheres in the creative spirit, and the objects of the world move accordingly, not to some other illusory value.**
(Lewis Hyde)

Grace can be anything from moving easily to expressing the depths of love, joy, peace, kindness and much more.

Truth can be anything from knowing a lot of facts to knowing the truth of oneself, between oneself and others, and between oneself and the world.

Can you imagine encountering someone who expresses the latter in each case?

Perhaps there are such people coming to mind for you right now.

Can you imagine being such a person to others?

Now that would be a life.

Seth Godin produced a delightful little eBook called Graceful; it’s a great place to start imagining.

(*From Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth.)
(**From Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.)

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.)