Unexchangeable

And now to the question of the meaning of our imperfections and of our particular imbalances: let us not forget that each individual person is imperfect, but each is imperfect in a different way, each ‘in his own way’. And imperfect as he is, he is uniquely imperfect. So, expressed in a positive way, he becomes somehow irreplaceable, unable to be represented by anyone else, unexchangeable.*
Viktor Frankl

The world, to a guide, is larger than themselves and their personal story. Guides care. … The guide passes down more than wisdom; they pass down compassion and empathy. They have been defeated themselves and have climbed back.; they know how it feels to be tempted by helplessness. They have been misunderstood, so they seek to understand. They have been abandoned, so they are loyal.**
Donald Miller

The competitors of the reality game show
The Traitors
line themselves up as they arrive on set according to how
successful they believe they will be.
Spoiler alert –
The two placing themselves at the bottom end were
instantly sent home.
We might say,
The ultimate finite game, being
an exclusive group of people, working towards
a goal, and adhering to the game’s rules, as
the two sent home painfully found out.
We all play in finite games, but Life is
an infinite game, being about
as many as possible being included for as long as possible, and,
When the rules get in the way, then
lay with the rules.
If Viktor Frankl is correct,
If we’re all irreplaceable, even in our
imperfections, then it’s not about being
first or last, but focusing on being
most fully ourselves:
But it is not only the uniqueness of an individual life as a whole
that gives it importance,
it is also the uniqueness of every day, every hour, every moment
that represents something that loads our existence
with the weight of a terrible and yet
beautiful responsibility.*

When we enter into the possibility of this,
We become trusted guides to others.

*Viktor Frankl’s Yes to Life;
**Donald Miller’s Hero On a Mission
.

An inconvenient life

In the end, our society will be defined by not only what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.*
John Sawhill

If you want a breakthrough, or something at the top of the rankings, or a skill that few have, or the chance to build something you’re proud of… It doesn’t pay to also require that it be convenient.**
Seth Godin

Awe draws us into a
bigger world and comes
with a responsibility that can feel like
inconvenience.
Sometimes it is to make something, and
sometimes it is to preserve something –
Though often it’s way more difficult than that,
Not one or the other, but both/and _
Which is even more inconvenient.
We may think we’re just getting on with life,
But in between me and life there exists
a story:
A myth is essentially a guide;
it tells us what we must do in order to
live richly.^

An some stories are better than others;
Indeed, it’s beholden upon us to creating better
personal and social stories –
Something that comes from
a story that humans have been creating for
ten of thousands of years,
In which humility, gratitude and faithfulness are good things,
And pride, greed and foolishness are bad things:
Learning to make meaning from our life stories
may be the most indispensable but least understood
skill of our time. Paul Wong, a
meaning researcher in Toronto, calls meaning-making
“the best kept secret to the greatest human adventure.”^^

I must confess that I want wonderful things in life to
come easily, to be busy creating and
not have to worry about
destroying,
But an inconvenient life may provide
the best story of all.

*Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks;
**Seth Godin’s blog: And also convenient;
^Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth;
^^Bruce Feiler’s Life is in the Transitions.

You do that and I’ll do this

[T]he fact, and only the fact, that we are mortal, that our lives are finite, that our time is restricted and our possibilities are limited, this fact is what makes it meaningful to do something, to explore a possibility and make it become a reality, to fulfil it, to use our time and occupy it. Death gives us a compulsion to do so. Therefore death forms a background against which our act of being becomes a responsibility.*
Viktor Frankl

That’s my responsibility,
Not yours.
Mihály Csikszentmihalyi and
Jonah Paquette
here describe two sides of what happens when
we take responsibility:
Don’t aim at success –
the more you make it your target,
the more you are going to miss it.
For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued:
it must ensue …
as the intended side effect of one’s
personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.**
As you reflect on how your actions flow outward,
creating a cascade of goodness around you,
you may experience a feeling of awe.^

Responsibility follows a dream and hones skills,
Which, when applied,
Make flow and awe possible,
Though there are other things to watch for –
Here are four:
Success is not guaranteed,
Some will hate what you do;
It’s more important than life itself, and
it’s transformative.

Yet responsibility is
what you do, and it contains
another neat trick,
Carrying within itself its own
permission.

*Viktor Frankl’s Yes to Life;
Mihály Csiksgentmihalyi’s Flow;
^Jonah Paquette’s Awestruck.

Word gaps

Technology is miraculous, but so too is nature – and this aspect of the world’s wonder seems under threat of erasure in children’s narratives, dreams and plots.*
Robert Macfarlane

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.**
Carl Sagan

The numbers were in for the
BBC’s ‘500 Words’ children’s short stories competition:
120,000 entrants,
53 million words.
The Oxford University Press revealed its
children’s word of the year 2015 to be
hashtag.
Of the nature words included by the children,
Oak appeared at the top of the list 3,975 times,
Owl 3,348 times,
Eagle 1,855 times,
But at the bottom of this list:
Buttercup 168 times,
Blackbird 167 times,
Conker 155 times.
We do not notice
the things we do not have a word for.
On a larger stage,
It may just be that we have a word gap between
the life that we have and
the life that we want,
And some of these will be
natural world words.
Yet life is life and it’s never too late.

*Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks;
**Jonah Paquette’s
Awestruck.

Gift-words

You step into a kind of magic circle when you start writing, and you step into a magic circle when you start reading. When I step into the portal, I am not sure what’s going to happen. That’s why I keep coming back. I step into the portal, and, no matter how tiny the distance I travel, when I return, I’m changed, even just a little bit. You step into the portal to discover what you didn’t know you were looking for.*
Austin Kleon

My hope is to bring some new words into
the life of another,
In return, I hope
for some new words that will
leave me changed.
These are gift-words;
You will have yours to share and
I will have mine,
And when we bring them together, something
quite exquisite
may occur.
When it comes to capturing what has been discovered,
I ask the dreamwhisperer to use
their own words.

*Austin Kleon’s blog: Stepping into the portal.

Made up words

Giftly: to generously gift something of your genius to someone

“lightly-dark”: a word to describe the light occurring at the edge of darkness after a cold clear day. Invented by me (aged 11) walking home in a beautiful under-related Lancashire landscape of the countryside, in the evening.*
Margaret Cockcroft (aged 96)

Perhaps most awe-inspiring of all, our brain allows us to imagine.**
Jonah Paquette

An eleven year old
Margaret Cockcroft
noticed something in such a deep way that
she had to bear witness to it with
a new word
(and all words are made up words).
Quentin Blake’s illustrating work underlines
that it needn’t be a word, but
could be a picture that bears witness to
something he has seen:
I like to explore the different possibilities
of some relationship or someone’s behaviour.
Whether I am inventing a set of situations
or working to an existing story,
the business s one of imagination.
I suppose where no story exists,
I am implying that there is one somewhere.^

All of this sets me to wondering whether
there is something that
you see in such a deep way that
you have to bear witness to it in
new words or new pictures.


*Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks;
**Jonah Paquette’s Awestruck;
^Jenny Uglow’s The Quentin Blake Book.

Characters finding a story

I am touched only if I respond from my own centre – that is, spontaneously, originally. But you do not touch me except from your own centre, out of your own genius. Touching is always reciprocal. You cannot touch me unless I touch you in response. The opposite of touching is moving. You move me by pressing me from without towards a place you have already foreseen and perhaps prepared. It is a staged action that succeeds only if in moving me you remain unmoved yourself.*
James Carse

A series of Quentin Blake’s artwork catches my attention.
Entitled “Characters in Search of a Story” –
Echoes of the work I am about, of
finding the story that is in each of us, and so
my hope is to co-create spaces in which
people may explore
their wonderment.
To this end, these spaces must be
places of “touching, not moving” because
it is important that the other person comes alive
with the things they love and I reciprocate
with the things I love –
Ebb and flow
It doesn’t always happen in this way but,
When it does,
Something quite astonishing takes place,
A releasing of talent and energy and deep-values.
We can only be touched when we are what we are;
When we are not what we are then
we can only move others.
I have read James Carse’s words
so many times, hoping to catch and hold on to
what he is offers from his own centre, his own genius –
And I hope that what I have described is
an expression of touching rather than moving.
We need more spaces like this for people
to flourish.

*James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.

A question of more

We are the ones who must answer, must give answers to the constant ‘life questions’. Living itself means nothing other than being questioned; our whole act of being is nothing more than responding to – of being responsible towards – life.*
Viktor Frankl

It was Viktor Frankl who revealed that
it is life that asks questions of us about meaning.
I believe we are each very capable of responding
imaginatively and hopefully in
kaleidoscopic ways.
In a recent conversation I felt I needed to share how the kaleidoscope twists for me:
That people are amazing and
should have the opportunity to know why,
Then releasing this in only the way they can,
And to keep releasing more,
As Seth Godin encourages:
Now all that’s needed is more.
More time. More cycles, more bravery, more process.
More of you. Much more of you.
More idiosyncrasy, more genre, more seeing, more generosity.
More learning.**
Or as Francine Prose urges:
The challenge is to keep doing something different,
something harder and scarier in every way than the thing you did before …
to do something more difficult each time.^
This kind of more is not about getting more but
giving more,
And it is hard work being amazing, but
it is what life asks of us.
We don’t know how much more we have until we use it.

*Viktor Frankl’s Yes to Life;
**Seth Godin’s The Practice;
^Austin Kleon’s blog: Stepping into the portal.

Longer longing

longing becomes not the craving for perfection – for the shimmer of glory, for the myth of closure, for the happily ever after – but a kind of tenderness for imperfection, for the recognition that the place between no more and not yet is the place where the chance-miracle of life lives itself through us, and that is a beautiful place*
Maria Popova

Two things: everything depends on the individual human being, regardless of how small a number of like-minded people there are, and everything depends on each person, through action and not mere words, creatively making the meaning of a life a reality in his or her own being.**
Viktor Frankl

Robert McKee reflects on writing but
provides us with a question for our lives:
Here’s a simple test to apply to any story: What is the risk?^
It is what draws us forward,
Holding us in the right direction,
Sustaining us through fat and lean,
Pulling us into action,
However small those steps may be.
Susan Cain names it “bittersweet”:
Longing is momentum in disguise: It’s active, not passive; touched with the creative, the tender, and the divine. We long for something, or someone. We reach for it, move toward it.*
This kind of risk –
A risk for something rather than anything –
Will lead us through
dark and light, through pain and
delight, through the shortness
of our days and the endlessness of meaning, and, yet,
Still we must.

*Maria Popova’s The Marginalian blog: The Power of the Bittersweet: Susan Cain on Longing as the Fulcrum of Creativity;
**Viktor Frankl’s Yes to Life;
^Robert McKee‘s newsletter: How Risk Makes a Meaningful Story.

Life is a verb

Running away from fear is fear, fighting pain is pain, trying to be brave is being scared. If the mind is in pain, the mind is in pain. The thinker has no other form than his thought. There is no escape.*
Alan Watts

[Awe] gives and expanded sense of time, which turn lowers our stress, leads us to feel more satisfied with our lives, and prompts us to act more generously and compassionately towards others. … Powerful moments of awe, can help reconnect us to our values, remind us of that truly matters, and put our lived into a great cosmic perspective.**
Jonah Paquette

Life is hard,^
But it is
also filled with beauty.
We make life harder when
we separate ourselves from the beauty
waiting to break upon our consciousness,
Even the joy of a rose or magnolia or foxglove, waiting patiently
to catch our eye as we leave our homes in the morning, is now
lost to monoblock and fake grass.
Robin Wall Kimerer^^ reports that
70% of Potawatomi words are verbs –
In contrast to English’s 30% –
So that is not a garden, but it is
“to be a garden” –
Such can be our experience.
You and I do not have a life, but we are
a life, or, as
Viktor Frankl describes this: we are to
actualise the content in our own act of being.*^
Returning to Robert Macfarlane’s reporting of
“childishness” in four and five year olds engaging with
the natural world, it was noted how,
paradox was, instead of a tool for collapsing meaning, a means of holding incompatibilities in rich relation^*.
I have wondered how
some of this might be retained into adulthood
as childlikeness, being open to wonder
as a way of embracing hardship.

*Katherine May’s Wintering;
**Jonah Paquette’s Awestruck
^The first of Richard Rohr’s elemental truths: Adam’s Return;
^^Robin Wall Kimerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass;
*^Viktor Frankl’s Yes to Life;

^*Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks.