Survival of the fittest

[P]ersons of tomorrow, though fully alive as individuals, are also at home in their relationships. Capacities such as loyalty, partnership, friendship, altruism, empathy, solidarity, support, nurturance and followership, are necessary ingredients for thriving in the 21st century.*
(Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester)

The fittest are those who fit into their local environment most harmoniously, naturally and fully. The subtitle [to On the Origin of Species] could have been Survival of the Most Harmonious.**
(Brian McLaren)

I had not realised that when Charles Darwin replaced his term natural selection with Alfred Russel Wallace’s suggestion of survival of the fittest they had meant how the fittest species are those best fitting in with their environment.

The human species now must choose whether it fits in with its changing environment. Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester’s characteristics of twenty first century people helpfully guide us and Brian McLaren names the following characteristics out from survival of the fittest necessary if we are to both survive and thrive as a species:

survival of the best adapted (as opposed to those those who deny reality?)
survival of the most adaptable (as opposed to those who refuse to change their habits?)
survival of the most attractive (as opposed to rewarding unattractive behaviours?)
survival of the most diverse (as opposed to homogenous societies and cultures?)
survival of the best organised (as opposed to a lack of appreciation for and curation of complexity?)
survival of the most cooperative (as opposed to those who are out for themselves?).

These survival means connect us with the rest of natural world, arguably the most meaningful thing we’ll ever do.

(*From Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester’s Dancing at the Edge.)
(**From Brian McLaren’s God Unbound.)

The blessing of limitations

The principle of Creative Limitations calls for freedom within a set of obstacles. Put simply, if you give yourself constraints, you will push yourself to new heights of creativity. Constraint, discipline ad limitation inspire stunning creative achievements; unrestrained freedom usually ends in a sprawl.*
(Robert McKee)

You can’t do everything, no matter what anyone tells you, and that’s a good start.

You are who you are because you have chosen certain things to be interested in over other things. This has allowed you to explore certain paths and many other things they have lead to, but it’s also left other paths behind.

This is our prime way of limiting ourselves.

As well as being limited – though I would say gifted – in certain ways, there are external limitations, those which come to us and those we decide upon. These provide us with purchase.

To realise we can’t do certain things and to embrace the limitations we find ourselves with makes it possible to get specific about making things happen.

Brian McLaren tells of an evolution in medium ground finches that took place in a single generation following a prolonged drought. Only the birds with stronger beaks had survived as they were able to break open larger seeds – the only seeds left. The next generation were born with four per cent stronger beaks. This is quite astonishing and it is the possibility of evolution we’re all born within:

The mind is our beak […] and the human mind is even more variable than the brain.**

And the heart and will, too.

We’re changing, growing, developing as we work within limitations, disciplines and constraints. As Robert McKee goes on to say:

Talent is like a muscle, without something to push against it atrophies.*

We are capable of constantly evolving; Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester imagine how we are now developing competencies for the 21st century:

Persons of tomorrow […] embrace the world. They engage with their existential reality in a spirt of hope, courage, invention and play.^

(*From Robert McKee‘s newsletter: Why You Need Writing Limitations.)
(Jonathan Weiner, quoted in Brian McLaren’s God Unbound.)
(^From Maureen O’Hara and Graham Leicester’s Dancing at the Edge.)

The apogee of anger?

There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have.*
(Howard Thurman)

What if the anger you feel is not about something being wrong out there this time, but something is wrong in here?

Or what if, instead of citing the facts, you look for the meaning:

I take the story literarily rather than literally, which means I look to it for meaning, not facts.**

There’s a difference between seeing and noticing, and anger is a pretty blunt emotion that needs a lot of noticing once we’ve seen it – perhaps even being the apogee of anger.

(*Howard Thurman, quoted in Brian McLaren’s God Unbound.)
(**From Brian McLaren’s God Unbound.)

An ever-changing story

I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being, so that we actually fell the rapture of being alive.*
(Joseph Campbell)

Only the storyteller can transmute information – be it in the form of “objective” fact or “subjective” experience – into wisdom.**
(Maria Popova)

At that point at which we seek to combine our life experiences with our innermost being, we will always find religion, politics, science, economics, arts, education, philosophy, sport and probably more, and, not only between but within each, there is argument.

Brian McLaren wrestles with his innermost voice’s questioning, which he personifies as a guineafowl puffer fish fleetingly encountered on his Galapagos trip:

Why can’t you admit that when you’re arguing about your God concepts, just as when you’re arguing about politics, you’re really arguing about the way you want to live, the future you desire for yourself and your descendants? Why can’t you see that these struggles, whether in religion or in politics or in philosophy or wherever, are essential to your struggle for survival – essential to your cultural evolution and all that it entails?^

Human life and all things contained by human life are evolving.

We struggle, though, to connect our life experiences with our innermost being. Two things that create a problem for us are speed and information.

Hugh Macleod writes about how hunter-gatherers would have to conserve their energy in dry seasons (he’s likening this to the coronavirus lockdown we find ourselves n):

But all of this non-movement had an upside; it gave one an opportunity to sit. And think. And reflect.^^

And tell stories.

In our modern world, many of us have lost the seasons, protected against the ups and downs of the weather and food harvests. It’s all the same and it’s all fast. And our storytelling has suffered as a result. It is being replaced by information. Our arguments are over information. Maria Popova has argued that only story can transmute information into wisdom and explains her concern:

The death of storytelling […] is both the result and a further cause of this gaping rift between wisdom and information – a concern even more valid and worrisome today, in our story-yelling era driven by the illusion that the latest and the loudest are the most significant and most deserving of our attention.**

Great storytellers do not provide explanation – the very thing we want information to do – but allows the listener to make their own sense, connections and find their flourishing in what is being shared:

Actually, it is hard the art of storytelling to keep it free from explanation as one reproduces it … .*^

We need stories that allow for each person’s life experience and innermost being to connect, to be able to feel alive, to deal with the information constantly thrown at us and shape our evolution in a healthier direction.

(*From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(**From Maria Popova’s Brainpickings: Walter Benjamin on Information Vs. Wisdom and Storytelling as the Antidote to Death by News.)
(^From Brian McLaren’s God Unbound.)
(^^From gapingvoid’s blog: Living through the dry season.)
(Walter Benjamin, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brainpickings: Walter Benjamin on Information Vs. Wisdom and Storytelling as the Antidote to Death by News.)

The generous look

Everything changes once you see how the universe is designed for abundance and not for scarcity. It not only changes the condition of your life but it changes you.*
(Erwin McManus)

Formal learning – classrooms and workshops – is the source of only 10 to 20 percent of what people can learn at work.**
(Jay Cross)

When we look more generously at others and our world something quite astonishing happens. It’s as though a great abundance has only been waiting for the invitation of a generous look to joyfully show itself and be seen, that is, to be known fully.

The generous look takes a lifetime of practise, requiring us to be open-minded, open-hearted and open-willed for as long as possible. It’s hard but it’s worth it:

People are wonderful. And they can be hard.^

(*From Erwin McManus’ The Last Arrow.)
(**From Jay Cross’ Informal Learning.)
(^From BrenĂ© Brown’s Braving the Wilderness.)

Gloria in ekstasis

Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) used to say that love was the sudden realisation that somebody else absolutely exists.*
(Karen Armstrong)

Perhaps that was the real quest of this adventure, the infinite quest for connection with everything, everyone, everywhere, always – the quest to let down my barriers, let go of my agendas and expectations, and simply be open to who and what may come, now and next.**
(Brian McLaren)

There are two important things emerging from the time of coronavirus lockdown for me which need to be pursued as we emerge into a new future: #blacklivesmatter and hope for the young unemployed. Both are concerned with recognising the beauty, wonder, dignity and contribution of every person.

It is not a matter of wondering whether this will become a pivotal moment in history; we must make it so.

A number of texts came together this morning and I share them here.

I love the description of Brian McLaren for his trip to the Galapagos Islands because they also describe the life-quest we find ourselves within: to be fully connected and open to the possibility of a new humanity and a new earth.

Wendell Berry expresses how this quest begins in solitude:

One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most inner sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.^

When life finds us out, we can go to great efforts to avoid looking within at our own embarrassment, guilt or shame and yet it is within that we find our seed of hope, and this far more powerful than anything we may hide from.

Karen Armstrong describes the growth of this seed in ekstasis: “the state of being beside one’s self or rapt [carried away] of one’s self:”

The aim of this step is threefold: (1) to recognise and appreciate the unknown and unknowable; (2) to become sensitive to over-confident assertions of certainty in ourselves and other people; and (3) to make ourselves aware of the numinous mystery of each human being we encounter during the day.*

Here is a journey I also came across in Theory U, taking us from the centre of ourselves to the edge and then to step beyond the edge and into the other where co-possibility is to be found in co-imagination, co-operation and co-creation:

Gloria in ekstasis!

(*From Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.)
(**From Brian McLaren’s God Unbound.)
(^Wendell Berry, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Wendell Berry on Solitude and Why Pride and Despair Are the Two Great Enemies of Creativity.)


So transformations cannot be extracted, made, delivered, or even staged, they can only be guided.*
(Joseph Pine and James Gilmore)

It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.**
(Charles Darwin)

One of the most amazing things you will discover about yourself is that you are capable of endless adaptation.

Let me know if I can help.

(*From Joseph Pine and James Gilmore’s The Experience Economy.)
(**Charles Darwin, quoted in Brian McLaren’s God Unbound.)

Mercy me … life just got interesting

We either agree with Macbeth that life is nothing more than a “tale told by an idiot,” a purposeless emergence of lifeforms including the clever, greedy, selfish and unfortunately destructive species that we call Homo sapiens. Or we believe that, a Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it, “There is something afoot in the universe, something that looks like a gestation and birth.*
(Jane Goodall)

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.**
(Jesus of Nazareth)

Most creatures in our world just do what they do, but we’re strange animals; we have options and choices.

This can make life complicated and difficult, but it also makes it very very interesting. Nothing is as it first seems in such a world as this in which we hold out hope for something better from one another towards our collective future.

Over to your imaginations.

(*Jane Goodall, adapted by Brian McLaren in God Unbound.)
(**Matthew 5:7)

Almost here?

[I]t is essential to put yourself in the unconditional service of the future possibility that is wanting to emerge. Viewed from this angle, presenting is about a dialogue with the future possibility that want to emerge.*
(Otto Scharmer)

Many people feel there’s a new future wanting to emerge and we get to be a part of creating this.

In her letter to young readers, Morley Kamen writes about the difference books made for her, but it’s her dream that I most want to focus on:

I was able to see I was not alone in my feelings but in believing that everyone, including nature, has a birthright to be respected and free. I learned that what I envisioned for humanity has been envisioned many times before I was even born. This validated me is some personal way and gave me permission to keep leaning into love and justice as I grew up.**

Here is a future that has yet to fully appear because, whilst there’s unfolding natural future, there’s also a human-led future. Kamen sees how many have been working towards this, leaving us maps; it is now our turn to add to these, to extend our knowledge of each other – and all fauna and flora:

When we learn about each other, we are less afraid of each other – I am thankful to those who have come before and those who are now actively providing us maps to get to where we need to go as a human family. We are all connected and our freedom to love, learn, laugh, dream, dance is all tied up to the freedom of everyone and every living things around us.**

I wrote of one of these maps in a recent post, realising I had stood on the spot where it had been revealed. We are all standing in a special place, sacred ground, in this moment, following the death of George Floyd, when the future that Kamen and so many others have dreamed and worked for wants to emerge, wants to breathe.

God says breathe!
The universe says breathe!
The science of physics and
chemistry and biology says breathe!
The oceans say breathe!
The trees say breathe!
And we bless each other, saying, breathe!

(Kamen includes a breathing exercise on her website, here.)

(*From Otto Scharmer’s Theory U.)
(**From Morley Kamen’s letter to young readers from Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s A Velocity of Being.)

The humble perspective

The purpose of life is to see.*
(Jack Turner)

It was less like seeing than like being for the first time.**
(Annie Dillard)

When Jesus of Nazareth said that the meek will inherit the earth there must have been those who thought this the most ridiculous thing they’d heard. I’m wondering, though, whether Jesus was encouraging us to embrace humility as a way of positioning ourselves better to all that is, being able to see more, feel more and, whenever and wherever possible, do more – as Seth Godin counsels:

We become original through practise.^

We’re not looking on the kind of humility that denies its own talents but knows its talents precisely and develops them, and, knowing others have talents, wants these to be known precisely and developed, too – even towards making it possible to collaborate.

It is this journey of seeing, feeling and doing more that brings us to ourselves and to others most fully: presence as Theory U has it, made possible by opening the mind, the heart and the will to the other:

I must know that I am, at least in part, the very thing I am seeking.^^

This works on a national scale, too, challenging so-called national pride to name precisely its talents and responsibilities, whilst also respecting and encouraging other nations to do the same, all towards a wonderful cornucopia of wonderfully original contributions.

This kind of humility is never a dead-end and always a portal of possibility for inheriting the earth.

(*Jack Turner, quoted in Terry Tempest Williams’ The Hour of Land.)
(**Annie, Dillard, quoted in Brian McLaren’s God Unbound.)
(^From Seth Godin’s blog: Two kinds of practice. I’ve altered the original “practice” to “practise.”)
(^^From Richard Rohr’s Eager to Love.)