Set?

Reading teaches me the answers to problems I haven’t had yet, or to problems I didn’t even know how to describe.*
(Alexander Chee)

“Set!” comes between “On your marks!” and BANG! (or Go!).

“On your marks!” is about being in the right place at the right time, but it doesn’t mean we’re necessarily “Set!” which is about having the wherewithal to go when called upon.

Reading isn’t the only way to be set, but it’s a big one** – or equivalents: podcasts, TEDtalks, MOOCs, etc. I think that everyone has a book in them, though, so conversations with interesting people is also a great way to be “Set!,” also running with ideas and experimenting and reflecting.

As we turn up to do these things each day, we may even find that we don’t have to wait for anyone else the fire the starter’s gun.

(*Alexander Chee’s letter to young readers from Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s A Velocity of Being.)
(**I’ve recently replenished my shelves with the following books:
Together (Richard Sennett)
The Power of Full Engagement (Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz)
Understanding Comics (Scott Macleod)
Born For This (Chris Guillebeau)
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (Walter Benjamin)
Deep Work (Cal Newport)
The Idea in You (Martin Amor and Alex Pellew)
Centering (M. C. Richards).)

The means of transformation

[E]very person is a unique source of transformative insight and human potential. Our lives are a process of constant discovery and invention. Each of us lives a unique human life.*
(Bill Sharpe)

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. […]‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.**
(Jesus of Nazareth)

The thing about the two short stories about the mustard seed and yeast is that something very small was able to transform what was already there. It was likely that the particular mustard plant clambered over existing plants and trees and the yeast needs flour to work its magic.

It is true for the individual as it is for the society.

We need to find the (often) small thing that will transform what is already present in our lives.

It may be an idea, a story or a person:

An animateur (from the root animer) is someone who “brings to life” a new way of thinking, seeing, or interacting that creates focus or energy.^

Stories that have enduring strength of myths reach through experience to touch the genius in each of us.^^

When we connect with and transform what is already within us then we become animateurs to others.

Beneath the way things are, we find deeper things from which everything new is possible:

Myth provokes explanation but accepts none of it. […] Explanations establish islands, even continents of order and predictability. But these regions were first charted by adventurers whose lives are narratives of exploration and risk. They found them only by mystic journeys into the wayless open. When the less adventuresome settlers arrive later to work out the details and domesticate these spaces, they easily lose the sense that all this firm knowledge does not expunge myth but floats on it.^^

I love James Carse’s phrase “into the wayless open” and this is exactly where we find ourselves – stepping into yet undiscovered continent’s of life-in-all-its-fullness.

(*From Bill Sharpe’s Three Horizons.)
(**Matthew 13:31-33.)
(^From Peter Senge’s The Necessary Revolution.)
(^^From James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games.)

Who’s teaching who?

Whatever your idea ends up becoming […] the process of bringing it into being will change your life. […] All you need to do is start …*
(Martin Amor and Alex Pellew)

We need some kind of reflective practice to best bring into being what it is we believe and feel we must.

Twenty two yeas ago I heard someone describe their own reflective practice and being 38 years old and not having then found one that really worked for me, I decided to copy it.

All these years later, it’s developed a lot into something quite different, and it means that for around the last 8,000 days or so, I have had some way of reflecting on my life and my work.

No doubt the practice will keep on changing, but I wonder where things might be if I’d resisted copying, if I wanted to find something original and unique to me.

Steal and copy to find your own way because it provides you with a place to start and, once started, it’s likely that you will overtake your teacher and become the the new teacher we need.

This morning, I was struck by David Whyte‘s words to a young reader because they are about openness and newness and possibility through the practice of reading, and, when it comes to the adventures of reflection, no less will be the excitement for those who begin and what treasures they will have to share:

I wish, I wish, I wish, I wish; I wish I were in your shoes now, I wish I were standing where you are standing now, I would swap everything I have learned through my reading, I would swap my entire library of a thousand books, every journey and adventure I have taken through their pages, all the insights about the world and myself, all the laughter, the tragedy, the moments of shock and relief, all the books that have amazed me and that have made me reread them again and again, to be at the beginning as you are, so that I could read them all again for the first time […] to walk through the incredible territory we call writing and reading and see it all again with new eyes.**

(*From Martin Amor and Alex Pellew’s The Idea in You.)
(**David Whyte‘s letter to young readers from Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick’s A Velocity of Being.)

Would you like some pictures with that?

Of course it’s a difficult problem. All the easy ones are already solved. Difficult problems are precisely what we signed up for, right? […] Difficult problems are rarely solved immediately, and sometimes they’re not solved the way we might have imagined, but with effort, they often yield.*
(Seth Godin)

What if we altered our value system so that the priority was place on soul-enhancing, skill building, self-sufficiency, exploration, mind-expanding tasks?**
(Keri Smith)

We don’t find the life we want or believe we are made for by solving easy problems.

The worthwhile problems are probably those that require us not to use only words but also pictures:

Pictures and words together make a third thing.^

Just a thought. When we’re taking on the kind of problems that transform things, pictures help us to see things differently: stories are the closest things words can be before they become pictures.

Such pictures and images and illustrations can help us to keep moving against the things that prevail when words fail us.

Until we break through:

Kids don’t call it art when they’re throwing things around – they’re just doing stuff.^

We can all draw; don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: Of course it’s a difficult problem.)
(**From Keri Smith’s The Wander Society.)
(^John Baldessari, quoted in Austin Kleon’s blog: A brief appreciation of John Baldessari.)

And I, I did not know

Why is it possible to learn more in ten minutes about the Crab Nebula in taurus, which is 6,000 light years away, than you presently know about yourself, even though you’ve been stuck with yourself all your life.*
(Walker Percy)

Life is always a configuration of abundance, even as individual lives might experience scarcity.**
(Graham Leicester)

Walker Percy’s words reminded me of Laurence Kushner’s book God Was in This Place and I, I Did Not Know, focusing on the biblical character Jacob’s encounter with God in a dream told in several ways.

The thing I want to draw out from this, when we experience the most amazing things in life, we are left standing in front of it, wondering who we are.

This is both humbling and awesome.

Especially when we see how it is in relationship with each other that we can be even more.

Again, humbling and awesome.

We end up in trouble when we believe we are everything we need and we have no need of each other.

(*From Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos.)
(**From Graham Leicester’s Transformative Innovation.)

Hurry-worry

The first horizon is dominated by the quantitive sense of time as duration, a limited resource. […] By contrast, the third horizon is characterised by a qualitative awareness of time as a defining moment, a moment of decision. […] the second horizon is a committed choice in the context of the moment, and attempt to capture the flow.*
(Bill Sharpe)

All three horizons are present to us right now: the first horizon of how we have always done things, the third horizon of different future possibilities and the second horizon of capturing and giving form to this future.

This may be something within society, within our work or within our personal lives.

Our overwhelming experience is that we’re likely to give more time to the first horizon of how things have always been when we need to slow down and pay attention to what can be.

(*From Bill Sharpe’s Three Horizons.)

Deep work

It is a constant effort and hard work – and inexplicably life-affirming – to honour who you are, what you believe, and why you are here.*
(Elle Luna)

When our possibility for growth is linked with quests for nobility, honour and enlightenment, we’re engaging in deep work** and fruitfulness will follow in the form of courage, generosity and wisdom.^

I am reminded of my father’s hard work of double-spading^^ our back garden when we moved on his retirement, removing so many stones that he was able to build a wall the whole length of the garden, including a walled enclosure full of stones at the end of the wall.*^

The result was a highly productive garden full of vegetables and flowers, far more than our family could consume and enjoy.

Cal Newport writes about the places people as diverse as Carl Jung, Michel de Montaigne, Woody Allen, Bill Gates, J. K. Rowling and Mark Twain would take themselves in order to engage in deep work.

There is no less a need to take ourselves to an undistracted place when it comes to the deep work of becoming more who we are.

Where do you go to dig deep, remove the stones and clear the weeds from your life?

(*From Elle Luna’s The Crossroads of Should and Must.)
(**Deep Work is the title of Cal Newport’s book of rules for success in a distracted world.
(^See Erwin McManus’ Uprising.)
(^^Digging two spade-depths deep.)
(*^He probably should have sold it as hardcore – possibly missed a trick there.)