Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an inclination to try and see whether you can pull something off. [Trying it for yourself can lead to some amazing discoveries.]
I am watching a young friend who’s stuck in a major cycle of suck. He won’t try anything new. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for him, but there it is. He sits around moaning about how his life is not working, but he won’t try doing anything different.
I don’t know. Maybe he took the Icarus story too much to heart. Icarus and his dad, a mythological inventor extraordinaire named Daedulus, were incarcerated in a famously inescapable prison by some king or other.
Daedulus, it says here, invented a way for humans to fly. (This was long before hot air balloons and heavier-than-air planes or anything.)
The inventor and his son, the story goes, strapped on wings made of wax and feathers that Daedulus designed. The wings worked and father and son escaped the fortress strong, but Icarus got so tripped out by the experience that he flew too close to the sun. The wax melted, the wings fell apart, and he crashed.
At this point, the Greek chorus cuts in and dolefully groans out the orthodox lesson: “The gods get angry at those who would dare to fly.” Uh-huh.
(It is worth noting that Daedulus also flew and he got away clean.)
Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick had an interesting take on the Icarus myth. He said, “I’ve never been certain whether the moral of the Icarus story should only be as is generally accepted, ‘don’t try to fly too high,’ or whether it might also be thought of as ‘forget the wax and feathers and do a better job on the wing.'”
Kubrick is famous for directing ground-breaking, innovative films (in their time) like Dr. Strangelove, Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket. He was really good at the art of trying something else.
We are, all of us, trained to fit in. The herd is stronger if everybody is all together, doing the same things, following the tried and true is the reasoning. Everybody agrees.
Don’t stand up. Don’t stand out. In Australia, they call it the “tall poppy” problem: Stand out and you’ll be cut down. In Japan they talk about the nail that sticks up. (It inevitably gets pounded down.) Sheesh! Taking a turn off the beaten path engenders dire predictions of eminent doom.
The easiest way to “fit in,” it seems, is not to start anything, not to try anything that is not-like-the-other-guys. It’s also a really good way to get stuck in suck…as my young friend is, unfortunately, finding out. The problem is you can get mired in a miserable bog of your own making that is a lot like being stuck in high school forever.
SEED THOUGHTS AND SUGGESTIONS
The antidote to all the heavy, herd-induced, foot-dragging, haul-that-barge-tote-that-bale mentality is to get into the habit of trying something else. It doesn’t seem to matter what you try, it seems. (Probably, though, experimentation with the latest pharmaceuticals might not be a grand idea.)
Software engineer Matt Cutts is featured in this You-Tube TEDTalk that was published in 2011. In it he advises, “Try something new for 30 days.”
If that sounds like too big a step for you, there’s an even smaller, tiny-step method, all ready-made and on-line.
In this YouTube video by CreativeLIVE, “28 to Make: Create Something New Every Day This Month,” you can join Makers Kate Bingaman-Burt, Ryan Putnam, Erik Marinovich and Lara McCormick in their romp through a series of daily creative project ideas that show up in your mailbox when you sign up for them. It’s a “way to get back into the habit of making cool stuff”, they say.
The book was published in 2000 and has since gone all over the world, being translated into 20 languages and over two dozen printings. It is a wondrous place to put your head if you are wondering what else you could try.
Go on…give these things a shot! Who knows what you might make?
Here’s a poem:
NOT A STORYTELLER
It just keeps going like that:
Erect a new idea and float it –
One more flying castle in the sky –
Then run-run-run to lasso the thing
And anchor it to the ground.
Work your buns off making it come real,
Then watch it crumple one more time
And dodge those stupid falling rocks
Coming down all around you.
The wise ones call it a treadmill, ya know.
I think I’m starting to get it.
That hamster in his cage has nothin’ on me except
The squeaky wheel’s starting to irritate the heck out of me,
And he just keeps on truckin’.
Tell me again, babe: You are doing this…WHY?
Where’d I park my Millenium Falcon?
There has GOT to be a better way to do this.
I think I figured out why I don’t write novels.
I’m not a storyteller, it seems.
My timelines fall apart and nothing makes any sense.
Journalist and radio producer Dave Isay firmly believes that every person has a story to tell, one that the world needs to hear, and he’s been working on figuring out how to gather these stories together so everyone can share in them. It all comes down to taking the time to listen.
THE LOST STORIES
It started, the guy says, when he was a young lad. He was a loner and a nerdy sort who preferred talking to older people.
One time he “interviewed” his grandparents and other family elders gathered for Thanksgiving using an old tape recorder he had found packed away in a box at his grandparent’s house. The old ones were happy to entertain the boy with their stories. He was enthralled and a good time was had by all.
The elders died after a time, he says, and the old tape he had made of their voices telling stories for their young relative was lost. Isay has always regretted that loss.
This animated YouTube video tells that story (in the inimitable StoryCorps style) as an introduction to the ongoing work of the massive oral history project that he initiated.
HEARING THE CALL
Years later, Isay was a 21-year-old, freshly graduated from NYU. He was waffling about whether he really wanted to follow the family tradition of slogging through medical school to become a doctor and took a year off to figure out what he wanted to do. While he was wrestling with that problem the confused young man decided to try his hand at being a journalist.
Isay’s very first attempt at putting together a documentary was for a story about the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a series of violent, spontaneous protests by the LGBT community against an early-morning police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay dance bar, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
The raid was part of the constant harassment and bullying the gay community faced during those times. It was a raid just like any other raid, but this time, someone got mad. Someone said, “Enough. Other people joined him. The angry protests spread and the Gay Liberation Movement was born.
In this YouTube video, “Remembering the Stonewall Riots” published in 2013 by Open Road Media, Martin Duberman, author of STONEWALL, talks about the significance of the riots.
Isay was really pleased with his work on that first documentary. It seemed to him that he had found his calling. He withdrew from medical school and started making documentaries. His favorites were about the ones about ordinary people.
The man’s life-work has been built on listening to stories. The company he built, Sound Portraits Productions, is an independent production company dedicated to telling stories about America’s ghettos, prisons and other neglected and hidden American communities in print, on the radio and on the internet. The company mission statement is emblazoned on the bottom of their emails: “Sound Portraits Productions…Documenting a Hidden America.”
IT’S BEEN DONE BEFORE
It’s not a new idea, nor one for which Isay takes credit. Instead he lists the ones he calls his heroes, other documentarians of the disenfranchised and the unheard:
Joseph Mitchel, the New York journalist of salon-keepers and street preachers
Dorethea Lange and Walker Evans, the great WPA photographers
Studs Terkel, oral historian extraordinaire
Alan Lomax, folk-life archivist
Alex Kotlowitz, documentarian of ghetto life.
Sound Portraits Productions went on to create award-winning radio documentaries that were featured on PBS.
Isay has said, “When we feel we’ve succeeded it’s because we’ve managed to expose – truthfully, respectfully – the hidden, forgotten, or under-heard voices of America. And where and when we fail it’s because we’re short of this mark.”
But the little boy who listened wanted to do more. So many people had stories they wanted to tell and the world needed to hear, but there was no way for them to tell the stories. Nobody even knew they were there.
STORYCORPS IS BORN AND GROWS AND GROWS
In October, 2003, the first StoryCorps soundproofed “Story Booth” opened in the Grand Central Terminal in New York City with an open invitation for people to interview one another. Friends, loved ones, even relative strangers were given the chance to conduct 40-minute interviews with help from the StoryCorps facilitators.
Anyone could make an appointment to record a session and it was a free service. One person was the interviewer, the other was the storyteller, relating some aspect of the life they’ve lived. The facilitator helped the participants record the interview.
Tens of thousands of people went for it. The storytellers and their listeners got a safe place where they could hold uninterrupted, meaningful conversations and ask and answer the important questions that very often get lost in the everyday daily grind of life. They also got a copy of the recording as a memento.
Another copy of the recording session was retained by the Story Corps and the stories became a weekly feature of the Morning Edition of NPR (National Public Radio) since 2005. (They’ve also been used to create animated shorts which can be viewed on the NPR website.)
The original Grand Central Station StoryBooth was closed down and a new one erected at Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square in July, 2005.
Meanwhile, that same year, StoryCorps converted two Airstream trailers into mobile recording studios and launched them from the Library of Congress parking lot. They’ve been touring the country ever since.
Here’s a YouTube video published by StoryCorps, “On the Road Since 2015,” that illuminates that story.
A second semi-permanent StoryBooth opened in San Francisco in 2008. Over time, additional booths opened in Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee and Nashville as well.
The StoryBooths, both permanent and mobile, were the major collection points for the stories at first, but not everybody could make it to them. The organization developed a couple of community programs to collect these other stories as well.
There’s the “Door-to-Door” service that sends teams of StoryCorps facilitators to temporary recording locations in the United States for several days at a time.
There’s also the “StoryKit” service that was started when the New York booth closed down in 2011 for a time due to a lack of funding. Professional-quality, portable recording devices were shipped to participants around the country for this one.
Another workaround that was developed was the “Do-It-Yourself” service that allowed individuals to download free step-by-step interview instructions, equipment recommendations and a “Great Question” list. This one was for people who wanted to conduct interviews using their own recording equipment.
A DAY FOR LISTENING
In 2008 StoryCorps launched an initiative called “the National Day of Listening” to encourage Americans to record stories with family members, friends and loved ones on Black Friday, the pre-Christmas shopping bonanza that occurs the day after Thanksgiving.
Then in 2015, the day was rebranded as “The Great Thanksgiving Listen” when StoryCorps launched their StoryCorps App. Teams worked with teachers and high school students across the country. The kids interviewed their elders and recorded their stories over the holiday weekend on an app on their smartphones.
The free app was developed by StoryCorps with the support of a 2015 TED Prize and 2014 Knight Prototype Fund award. It allows users to record the interviews on a smartphone. Users can upload their interviews to the StoryCorps.me website.
Over the years, there have been collaborations and initiatives with groups, organizations and institutions from all over the country that target various segments of the American population as well. Stories have been collected from the military, from people suffering memory loss, from Latinos and from African-Americans, from LGBTQ community, from people in prisons and the criminal justice system, and from those personally affected by the events of September 11, 2001.
Also, there’s the StoryCorps Legacy community program which partners with medical and disease specific organizations to provide opportunities for people with serious illness and their relatives to record and share their life story as well.
A LIVING RECORD
With the participants’ permission, the stories collected by all of these efforts (including the ones recorded on smartphones) are archived in the Library of Congress’ American Folklore Center. It constitutes the largest single collection of “born-digital” recorded voices in history. It is a massive living record of American lives by the people who lived it and it is magic.
The stories are slices of life that have been used in a wide range of projects. The collection has been useful as a resource for various researchers in language, speech-recognition, and history among other things..
Over the years StoryCorp founder Dave Isay has published five books full of stories from the collection as well.
One of the participants who conducted an oral-history interview with her grandmother in the Grand Central Station StoryBooth was featured in a Library of Congress blog post about the archive and how it was made.
Sharon DeLevie-Orey explained, “Last year my sister and I came to StoryCorps with my then-91-year-old grandmother. We had this fantastic interview, in which my grandma was candid and funny and loving.
“Yesterday she died. I just took out my StoryCorps CD and noticed the date, a year to the day. Tomorrow will be her funeral. I could only listen to about 20 seconds before bursting into tears,” she says, “but I am so grateful that I have this. Sure, I could have taped her anytime in the last 41 years. But I didn’t. Now the reward is so huge.”
Her conclusion: “Everyone should do StoryCorps—because we don’t live forever.”
Sharon’s story is echoed by many others who have participated in the StoryCorps process as well. For many it was the “best 40 minutes of my life” that added meaning and mana to their ordinary life.
The wise guys say Life is a balance. Physically that is a truth. You breathe in and you breathe out. Too much breathing in and you hyperventilate; too little and you turn blue. Eat too much and you gain weight; eat too little and you waste away.
Balance is fascinating. I remember that as kids, my friends and I used to try getting the teeter-totter plank to sit perfectly level on its fulcrum as we piled on. We never did get it quite right. We tried sitting in different positions on the see-saw board, adjusting the mix of thin and fat kids and throwing in assorted pets as part of the challenge. It was a heck of a lot of fun.
This YouTube video, “Defying Gravity With Korea’s Premier Balance Artist” was recently published by Great Big Story, the result of a collaboration with Korean Air. In it artist Rocky Byun, a “balance artist” based in Tancheon, South Korea demonstrates how he is able to find the balance point in anything – rocks, furniture…even bikes and motor scooters. His amazing sculptures appear to defy gravity.
In another, earlier video filmed at a shopping mall in Dubai and posted to YouTube by Pretty Pink in 2013, Byun is shown performing his art. He constructs sculptures that incorporate everything from a bunch of irregularly shaped rocks, a laptop, a motor scooter, and even a small refrigerator standing on one corner.
ORIGINS OF WORK-LIFE BALANCE
There is one balancing act that is even more difficult than what Byun and his fellow balance artists can do. That is the one that’s been dubbed “the work-life balance.”
Everybody is supposed to work at getting that one right. Somehow, some way, we are all supposed to aim for developing an optimal career AND have an optimal family or personal life as well. Ri-i-i-ght.
Before the Industrial Revolution, there wasn’t much talk about trying to balance work and the rest of life. Most people lived in the middle of their work. Farmers, for example, lived on their farms and the whole family pitched in to help grow and harvest crops as well as take care of all the other things necessary for living.
Work and the rest of life were not separate things. Work was just part of living. With the developments of automation, factories, and corporate offices came the Big Divide. It became normal for “work” to happen “someplace else.”
“Work” became a “job” or a “career” and got compartmentalized away from the other lifestyle things like family, health, leisure, pleasure, community-building and spiritual development. The priorities of the work-place and the job or the career were often very different from the kinds of priorities one needs to set for personal development or for the growing of relationships and families.
It all takes time and effort, no matter whether you want to get good at your job, advance in your career, develop as an individual, or participate in group or community activities. It can get terribly complicated.
The expression “work-life balance” was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970’s to describe the balance between an individual’s work and his or her personal life. In the United States, the phrase was first used in 1986.
DEALING WITH THE SEPARATION OF WORK AND LIFE
By 2010 there were all kinds of studies about work-life balances and imbalances and the effect that work has on the rest of a person’s life. It’s a given, they say: When the work-life balance is out-of-whack, you get out of whack.
Theories abound about how one goes about finding a “proper” balance. Everybody weighs in with their own prescriptions and solutions to the dilemma as technology makes it easier and easier to stay connected with your work-world regardless of where you happen to be.
It’s sort of ironic, that. Now “work” happens at home again and still we separate it from the rest of life.
It would not be so distressing if there wasn’t such a lot of guilt attached to our failure to get the balance “right” and real. You want to be a success at your work. You want to have a grand family life and lots of friends and so on.
Everybody tells you that you can do it all, have it all. (And the sub-text is: What are ya? Lazy or something?)
BALANCE OR BUST
The problem, of course, is that you’re trying to make all the differently weighted and shaped things in your life form a structure that defies gravity….flies, even. You’re trying to be an amateur balance artist and your structures don’t come out looking elegant and awesome like Byun’s work. Trying to get the balance right is not nearly half as much fun as the game my friends and I used to play with the see-saws.
One way to make it all work is to run yourself ragged trying to get it all done. That one often ends up with you all twisted into a stressed-out pretzel. Not good.
Another way to find the right “balance” for you is to decide what your purpose is in life, what brings meaning and mana to it…not somebody else’s pronouncements about what is right and good and real. Just your own thoughts.
Here’s a YouTube video, “Work/Life Balance Is a Myth” by award-winning American photographer Chase Jarvis. In it, he points out that not everyone is cut out for the mad dash of doing-doing-doing that can lead to $ucce$$ big-time…and the real is, they don’t actually have to be.
It is possible, after all, to have a meaningful ordinary life. It just depends on what you want and where you put your head.
Jarvis helped to co-found an online education platform, creativeLIVE in 2010. The group puts together free on-line classes and works to help Creatives market their work. The tools they provide can help other Creatives realize their own dreams. A good thing.
FINAL THOUGHT – ANOTHER IPS
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that you are the framework of your own life. [You’re the only one who can balance the elements of your life to create a synergy that supports you as you dance to your own heartsong.]
I had a friend who won my admiration because his constant go-to request was always this: “Can I ask a stupid question?” Then he’d ask a question that was A-B-C simple about something I thought I knew.
I’d answer the question (out of my own great wisdom, of course). It made me feel so good to be able to be…uh-hem…The Expert.
My friend Les listened carefully. He’d think on what I said. Then he’d ask more “stupid” questions, helping me explore where my thoughts might lead. One thought would lead to the next and then the next. He’d interject his own insights, showing me that he was listening and appreciating what I had to say. In the discussion that would inevitably follow, with me expounding and him asking more and more questions, a light would start to dawn. Often, I’d reach the limits of my understanding fairly quickly, and still he had more questions.
That’s when the real fun began. Because he brought a little-kid wonder to the exchange and he’d jump in with his own thoughts on the thing, new ideas would start popping up. Often they were things I’d never considered. Les would start grinning wide and bring up another question. He’d get all sparkly and go with the flow of the conversation, interjecting “yes-and” thoughts, building on the mind-construct I would make.
Les had a lot of fun running with ideas. (I guess nobody ever told him that ideas are like scissors and it can be dangerous to run with them. Nobody told him that the ideas can cut you if you’re not careful.)
Our discussions got quite lively. They really were a lot of fun. At the end of all our talk-story, we’d hug each other, hugely satisfied by our game, and go along on our merry ways. And my take-away, always, was another way of seeing the world and more ideas for explorations and moves to try.
I don’t know what he got out of these talks we had, but it sure was a lot of fun.
A MASTER IS ALWAYS AN AMATEUR IN DISGUISE
We are always being told that being a “master” is the pinnacle of our journeys toward Achievement and $ucce$$. It’s the end-all, be-all of the whole thing, they say. Be a Master, Rule the World. R-i-i-ight.
In this YouTube video, “Sarah Lewis: Be a Deliberate Amateur,” which was published by the National Association of Independent Schools in 2015, art historian Sarah Lewis tells us that part of the process of developing Mastery is knowing how to fall back into an I-Don’t-Know state of mind and ask “stupid questions.”
Her book explores the question of how new ideas happen and is a lively and interesting read that has won widespread praise. It mashes history, biography and psychological research together and explores the value of what the wise guys call “Beginner-Mind”. In it, Lewis points out the value of retaining that natural sense of wonder you carried around as a child.
BEGINNER-MIND ON THE RISE
The following YouTube video is a part of a series published by Mindfulnessgruppen, a Stockholm-based company offering courses and trainings based on mindfulness. It features mindfulness researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn exploring the benefits of Beginner Mind, one of what he calls “the nine attitudes of mindfulness.”
Kabat-Zinn’s life-work has been explorations of the mind-body connection and how mindfulness helps promote health and well-being. He’s been credited with bringing the once-obscure concept of Mindfulness into mainstream thought, it says here. After Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness was no longer just the province of wrinkled, half-naked, bearded old men sitting in caves all blissed-out.
The man has written numerous ground-breaking books in the field, and is Professor of Medicine Emeritus and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. As a result of his studies, testing and developing assorted practical applications for his discoveries, Kabat-Zinn figured out a way for people to use mindfulness to help reduce stress. He and his crew teach other people how to do his MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction).
The whole thing is a further iteration of old wisdom that’s been made new and relevant to our own world now.
THE WONDER OF IT ALL
In order to explore ideas to their fullest extent (or at least as far as your own mind can take them), it’s clear that you need to get back to Beginner-Mind. That is the start of it all, it seems.
The very best thing about the Beginner-Mind mindset is the sense of wonder that is a part of our birthright as humans. We can wonder. We can think. We can dream.
This extraordinarily beautiful YouTube video, The Wonder of Life, was published by RedFrost Motivation in 2015. In it, Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, some of the best of our scientific thinkers, give us things to ponder while the guys who put together the video blow up our minds big and bigger with out-of-this-world images and heart-expanding music.
My own thought on all of this is that it gets really hard to think small when you figure out that you’re made up of the same stuff as stars and rainbows and butterflies.
Starting is a series of events. You decide to walk to Cleveland and you aim to do it on your own two feet – no bike, no bus, no train, no plane or helicopter…not even a hot-air balloon. You’re going to walk to Cleveland.
So you take a first step in the right direction. That’s starting. At the end of the day, however far you’ve gotten, you might stop at a hotel and rest. And what happens the next morning? Either you quit this silly project, decide you’d rather ride, or you start again…walking to Cleveland.
Up close and personal on this long walk, you’ll start to get the underlying idea after a while. What you’ll figure out is that every step you take on this long-haul journey is a new beginning.
Every time you take another step you are reaffirming your commitment to your goal and you are making another start. All the way to Cleveland. (The trick, of course, is to keep going until you get there.)
But, doing the walk all by yourself can be a long and lonely trip. A companion or two makes the journey much more fun. A whole tribe could get downright lively on the road trip.
Entrepreneurial thought leader Seth Godin wrote a book, TRIBES: We Need You to Lead Us, that talks about how tribes have formed down through the ages. He shows you how to develop as a leader of one.
Any group of people can become a tribe. Who knows, maybe you can grow your own and take them along on your journey. This book could point you in the right direction.
IT’S MORE FUN WHEN THERE’S MORE THAN ONE
Another entrepreneur, Derek Sivers, is best known for being the founder and former president of CD Baby, the online CD store for independent music-makers. He’s also well-known for a TED talk he did that went viral in 2010, “How To Start a Movement.”
During his talk he used a video of a guy in the crowd doing a silly dance at the 2009 Sasquatch Music Festival as a metaphor for his talking points.
The advice contained in the talk is not earth-shattering. It is, in fact, a bit simplistic, but it did get people thinking about “lone-nut leaders” and how they get validation if they can attract the right guy to follow their lead.
It’s the “first-follower,” Sivers says, who actually shows the rest of the people how to follow and how to join in the fun.
Three years later, Phil Yanov, a technology columnist and public radio commentator, did a TEDx talk in Greenville, SC called, “Bang a Drum. Build a Tribe. Start a Movement.”
Yanov takes the idea a little further in his talk. He gives you three steps to get you off your duff:
Find YOUR one true song. (He tells you how to tell when the song you are singing is your one true song.)
SING your song so people can hear it. (Being shy won’t get your song heard, he points out, and reminds you that your mission is more important than little ole you.)
Grow your circle everywhere any way you can.
Yanov also offers a bonus bit of advice: Start today….
If what you’re doing matters, waiting until everything’s just so isn’t going to make it start to happen any faster.
WHEN YOUR KOOL-AID’S BIGGER THAN YOU
There are so many directions you can take this.
If you find an “idea worth spreading,” as our TED-talk friends are wont to say, try asking whether the idea has been spread as far as it can go. Has its reach been hobbled by some external factor, perhaps?
Maybe the guy telling the message is a dork-head with zero people skills and his very important idea is getting trashed as a result. Or maybe that great idea is buried in technical lingo and jargon that leaves everybody dizzy.
Can you help with that? Can you use your communication skills and make something out of them that the general public can use? Can you figure out everyday ways to use the seminal good idea to make other people’s lives better?
The framework you build on the one good big idea as you widen your circle of people who are believing in the big idea and helping to spread it and make it happen could become like a sunken ship off some shore that supports a whole colony of reef creatures. The snorkeling could get good over time.
ONE GUY’S TRIBE
As an artist painter Brendan O’Connellhas made a name for himself as “the Warhol of Wal-Mart.” His paintings of the interiors of assorted Wal-Mart stores hang in museums and his art has been lauded by the New Yorker and appeared in the Colbert Report.
O’Connell’s latest works are pictures of branded products on grocery and supermarket shelves. Collectors and aficionados snap these up. Grocery-cart candidates can be fine art, it seems.
However, O’Connell is more than just another artist with a gimmick. He has long espoused the idea that creativity is a human birthright and that everyone can be creative. With this in mind, O’Connell co-founded Everyartist, a non-profit social enterprise that’s bent on sparking creativity by promoting the act of art-making among children.
Every October the group puts together huge community art events (Everyartist Live!) that involve many, many children. Their goal is to turn the work of a million young artists nationwide into “the most massive community art event in history.”
Here’s a video of one of the events, titled “Wal-Art, Bentonville, AR,” which was published in 2012.
O’Connell built himself a tribe and they started a movement. They keep on doing good work.
Here’s a poem….
THAT’S THE ONE
The World and the Real:
Two paths to follow.
It would be easy if
They just went off in
One going here, one there.
It can’t be that easy can it?
Some cosmic joker went and threw
Another loop into the equation,
Making an intricate Chinese knot
With some pretty name.
The paths intertwine,
Over and under and through,
Up and down and around,
No beginnngs, no ends that the eye can see.
The cords run parallel; they divide,
Looping and swooping
Through intricate patterns,
They make a beautiful whole.
But, how do you tell when
You’re looking for one and not for the other?
How do you know which way to step?
(Too bad they’re not color coded.)
The wise guys say if you’re looking for Real,
Here’s what you do:
Find the path that shatters,
The one that won’t console,
The one that isn’t some easy glide
Through the same-old, same-old.
Find the one that takes all of everything you’ve got
It’s been a quiet sort of shift. More and more people are moving away from the “work-and-spend” mentality that characterized the latter half of the last century. They are looking for more meaning to add to their lives, they say.
Gregg Easterbrook, in his book, THE PROGRESS PARADOX: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse, has pointed out, “A transition from material want to meaning want is in progress on an historically unprecedented scale—involving hundreds of millions of people – and may be recognized as the principal cultural development of our time.”
WHY THE SHIFT?
Easterbrook suggests, after delineating assorted studies by the guys who study “happiness,” that the whole mindset centered around material want didn’t actually work so well. The people who got all the stuff they ever wanted or could imagine were not appreciably happier than they were before the stuff showed up.
The problem is, the researchers say, we humans tend to get accustomed to a certain circumstance – good or bad — very quickly. When all of our dreams come true, we start to take for granted all of our fulfilled wishes.
All the wise guys down through the ages tried to warn us: The hunger of our built-in Want Bugs is bottomless. Get the one absolutely gotta-have-it thing today and tomorrow a new gotta-have-it thing will take its place. It’s like all those wants are on some kind of conveyor belt that just keeps turning and churning.
The wise guys told us: The only thing you can do when you’re stuck on a treadmill is to step off. If a lot of people step off the collective treadmill, then it becomes the start of a movement, the start of another cultural iteration.
This curated YouTube video, “Thanks Internet,” published in 2014 by reKindle.org, shows one change that is happening.
The video is a composite of many videos shared on the Internet by the people trying to help make the world a better place for at least one other person. The result is an amazing feel-good bit of work. The non-profit organization posted a message at the end of the video asking that people go do good deeds, take a video and tag it with #reKindleKindness.
They want to do more of videos like this one.
WHAT’S A CULTURE OF MEANING?
All cultures are “meaningful.” How not? They are the products of the minds and the lifestyles of a group of people who all live together in it. The ones that hold the most promise for an individual’s well-being and happiness are the ones that amplify positive values and goals.
Cultures that promote kindness, compassion and love rather than fear, hatred and anger and those that seek to lift up other people rather than inflict harm on them tend to be the ones that grow happy people.
Cultures that cultivate cooperation and participation in something bigger than any one person while tolerating and even honoring individual quirks and idiosyncrasies in its members are more likely to be good for you than those that don’t. We didn’t really need guys in lab coats to tell us that. It’s sort of built into our gut-knowledge.
MEANING IN THE INTERNET AGE
The coolest thing about this postmodern world of ours is our exposure to so many different cultures, sub-cultures, sub-sub-cultures, primal cultures, hybrid cultures, made-up and made-to-order cultures….and so on. We are, in fact, drowning in all this information about all the doings of people around the world.
We can touch the lives of people from around the world. We can build our own community or tribe of folks from around the globe.
We can even go retro and just touch the life of somebody who lives down the street.
Here’s a YouTube video, “Grow Some Good: Maui School Gardens,” that was published in 2013 by Ken Surrey. The video was made by Emmy-winning photographer Jess Craven about how one group of neighbors have built a culture of meaning around the concept of connecting kids to the food they eat by building and supporting school gardens.
The garden featured in the video started with three raised beds and grew, becoming nearly quarter of an acre of food garden and learning lab.
The garden this video spotlights is part of an ongoing project of Grow Some Good, a nonprofit group that has helped to establish food gardens and living science labs in local schools all over the island.
The outdoor classroom lessons support school curriculum in science, math, health and agriculture. The kids study traditional Hawaiian plants and learn the growing practices of native Hawaiians. They also experiment with growing and preparing foods from other cultures as well.
The group builds ongoing community partnerships, recruiting volunteers and supporters that include gardeners and farmers, food educators and assorted businesses as well. Local chefs support the gardens through fundraisers, recipe workshops and harvest parties.
I am remembering the struggle I had as a kid memorizing the words of John Donne’s “No Man Is An Island.” My teacher liked torturing us with all kinds of high-sounding ideas. (I loved her dearly so I gamely tried to not mangle the thing too badly.)
I’ve since learned that Donne was a cleric in the Church of England during the 17th century, who was considered to be one of the leading “metaphysical poets” of the Renaissance era. The poem my teacher made me recite was actually first written by him in 1624 as a prose “meditation”in his DEVOTIONS UPON EMERGENT OCCASIONS.
The Renaissance was another period of incredible change and reawakening, it seems to me. People were searching for meaning and mana in their own ordinary lives back then too.
Confusion and information overload was also a common theme back then. Just as we are experiencing in our time of great change, the culture and mindset a person chose to embrace back then affected the way he or she walked through the world.
I am thinking it would be a good thing, as part of this exploration of meaning and mana, to feature other stories in this thing about the “cultures of meaning” that our neighbors and cousins and friends are getting into. What do you think?
Here’s a poem:
The true, the beautiful, the good…
Entrance and beckon me.
Their light, like a candle glows,
Softly embracing the warm dark
Full of beloved shadows.
The true keeps me grounded
While the beautiful helps me play,
And the good is a quiet beacon
That shows me the best way.
The good, the beautiful, the true:
Without them you get lost.
You nourish others with the good,
The beautiful nourishes you,
And you can keep your feet on the ground,
If you’ll just remember the true.
The three enfold your smallness in one gigantic yes
Gratitude is a choice, but why would you choose it?
In recent years there have been systematic scientific studies of gratitude and its positive effects. These studies show that grateful people are happier, more open and sociable, less depressed and neurotic and express higher levels of satisfaction with their lives and relationships.
Grateful people also show higher levels of growth and self-acceptance and stronger coping skills for challenges and set-backs.
The ones who carry on with master motivation speaker Zig Ziglar’s “attitude of gratitude” mindset share a greater willingness to seek out help from others. They spend more time planning how to address issues. They demonstrate the ability to interpret challenging events in ways that help them grow.
Here’s the voice of the late Zig Ziglar at his best in a YouTube video published by Thinking Humanity. His anecdote about an unhappy, vitriolic woman who hated her job and what happened to her when she chose gratitude is eye-opening.
“You can’t change other people,” Ziglar points out. “You can only change yourself.”
WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?
Here’s another interesting take on gratitude. This “Experiment In Gratitude” You-Tube video was put together by SoulPancake for their “The Science of Happiness” project. It was created by Mike Bernstein and Matt Pittman.
The biggest takeaway from this thing is the thought that the person who was least happy that day experienced the greatest rise in felt happiness. That’s a powerful thing.
SoulPancake is a digital media and production company that “creates content that explores life’s big questions, celebrates humanity, and champions creativity with integrity heart and humor,” it says on their Facebook company overview.
Named one of FastCompany’s Top 10 Most Innovative Video Companies of 2015, they target the “Optimistic Millenial.” Their work has something for all of us, I am thinking. Among their series of more than thirty assorted video formats are sprightly-named things like “Kid President,” “What She Said,” “Highly Evolved Human,” and “Metaphysical Milkshake.”
Taking stock of the many people, experiences and things that are good, right and working well in our lives is uplifting. Apparently, elevating your awareness of what’s right with the world rather than focusing on what’s wrong, you come to realize that happiness really is already right there, all around you.
An attitude of gratitude also has an uncanny way of attracting more good to you. What we focus on grows, and focusing on simple pleasures – on the good we are experiencing here, now, today – can work wonders.
In this YouTube video, “Contentment and Gratitude,” Ramsey is doing one of his annual Thanksgiving radio broadcasts. He lays out the arguments for carrying an attitude of gratitude around with you. As he points out in the video, helping grateful people makes other people happy and they tend to go out of their way to help some more.
WHAT YOU FOCUS ON GROWS
What you focus on grows. You can consciously focus on what you’re thankful for rather than on what frustrates you. If you maintain positive thoughts and grow a positive mental attitude, if you consistently engage in positive action, then eventually it becomes easier and easier to be a positive person.
Life milestones are great. Hammering your latest goal, receiving some coveted prize, getting rewarded for the hard work you’ve put in, getting that house or car or latest electronic wonder you’ve been drooling over…all of these things are worth celebrating.
However, celebrating these life milestones is not a substitute for a foundation of gratitude that leads us to more consistent happiness.
EXERCISES FOR YOU TO TRY
MAKE A LIST. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yet another list. Every day (either in the morning when you first get up or in the evening before going to bed), write down three things for which you are grateful. Just three. Every day.
I’ve done it both ways. If you do it in the morning, your day starts out suddenly brighter and more shiny. If you do it just before going to sleep, then sleep comes easier and when you wake up the list is right there waiting to remind you of the good things in your life. A bonus, two-for-the-price-of-one move.
PUMP OUT THE JUICE. Take the time to express something beyond a generic thank-you. Personalize your authentic gratitude. Share your appreciation for somebody’s unique qualities and their specific impact on your life.
Mix up your heart in it. What comes from the heart will hit another heart. Do that. (It’s a good thing.)
CELEBRATE THANKSGIVING 365. On his Thanksgiving radio shows, Dave Ramsey asks his callers to share one thing for which they are grateful before they can ask their questions or address their concerns. This “tradition” might be a good thing to try your own self.
Before every evening meal, at the end of the day, whether you are alone or with someone, think on some things for which you’re grateful. If you’re with other people, share your best good thing and get them to share theirs as well. Ask, “What’s one good thing that happened today? What are you grateful for?”
Make it a ritual. It will go a long way to help diffuse the stresses of the day and to reconnect to each other as well as help prepare your bodies to enjoy the food before you. (After all, as some guy in yet another lab coat will probably tell you, bodies that are relaxed digest food better.)
Here’s a poem:
Hanging ten on the edge of dissolution,
Staring into the maw of the Creative Dark, po panopano.
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that action and failure are two sides of the same coin. [The trick is to use failure as a signal for a course correction rather than as a stop sign….]
This book grew out of the transcript of a commencement address by Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist nun who is also a best-selling author of many wisdom books. Her teachers have included master Tibetan lamas, Dzigar Kontrul Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rimpoche as well as the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. At various times since she became a nun in 1981, she served as the director of Karma Dzong in Boulder, Colorado and as the director of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia.
The speech from which the book was made was a promise fulfilled. When her granddaughter Alexandria entered Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, Ani Chodron told the girl she would give the commencement address when the Alexandria graduated. This was a large gift.
When her granddaughter graduated in 2014, Chodron presented this speech. It is based on a quote from Samuel Beckett who advised, “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
In this clip from an Oprah Winfrey Network “SuperSoul Sunday” episode published as a YouTube video in that same year, Chodron tells a little bit about the speech.
The book that was made from the speech is a graceful, simple thing, but, as is true of a lot of Chodron’s work, the information in it is layered, and it unpacks beautifully.
AN OLD STORY
My favorite bit is when Chodron tells an old Chinese story about an old farmer with a beautiful stallion and a strong and strapping son, both of whom are precious to him.
One day the horse runs away and the farmer’s wife and all their friends in the village moan and groan and tell each other how terrible it is. The old man says, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
The next day the horse returns home with a wild mare. The farmer’s wife and the villagers celebrate and tell each other what a grand thing it is. Now the farmer and his wife have two horses. The old man says, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
The following day, the son decides to try and tame the wild mare. The horse throws him off her and his leg is broken. His wife and the villagers wail. It is a catastrophe! The old man says, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”
The day after that, the Chinese army comes through the village and conscripts all of the able-bodied men in the village to fight in the latest war. The son, with his broken leg, stays home….well, you know what the farmer’s wife and the villagers said. You know what the old man said.
That’s where the old story ends, but you do get the feeling that it probably goes on like that over and over again, ad infinitum, with the old man saying, “Maybe yes, maybe no” while the people around him mill about and react emphatically to every circumstance and situation.
Chodron advises the students to take the old man as a model as they go out into the world to meet whatever is out there for them. She tells them, “If you can just remember the old man and what he had to say about what is happening, you’ll remember that you never know where something will lead.”
Her whole point is that we live in the middle of the Great Mystery. Nobody knows where life will take us. Nobody knows how we will grow and develop from moment to moment.
The nun tells the graduating class that it’s a good thing to get curious about your outer circumstances and notice how they impact your internal talk. That internal talk will be what you carry around with you and it does impact what you do in the world.
Each of us is part of a continuing saga and it sometimes goes well for us and sometimes not. Nobody can know what happens next. It unfolds.
Chodron advises that if you can avoid getting caught up or lost in the storyline, then there is the possibility that you will learn something about Mystery and about your own self. You might even get to a space where you can stand still long enough in the rawness and vulnerability of what you feel to actually be able to get past it gracefully and learn the lessons each episode has for you.
From this space, you will be able to communicate the lessons you’ve learned from that to other people. The event and your feelings about them become a door to a space where you can build something new.
The key to getting into that space where creativity and making can happen is to get curious. To notice what is happening inside you as well as what is happening outside in the world. To stand up again after you fall down. To try again. To “fail better,” as Beckett says.
This YouTube video, “Get Curious,” published by Sounds True, is a part of Chodron’s speech at the university.
AFTER THE TALK, MORE TALK
After the speech, Chodron agreed to a follow-up interview with Sounds True publisher Tami Simon. This interview, which is another rarity for Chodron, is included in the book. The teaching unpacks the points Chodron makes in her speech and also offers valuable strategies for working with the outer circumstances of your life to help develop your own inner strength and to reaffirm your own inner goodness.
At one point in all this Ani Pema says, “Failure opens an unguarded, vulnerable and wide open space. And from that space the best part of ourselves come out.”
She goes on to explain how the process works and how it feels from the inside.
At the end, Chodron and Simon agree, there is only “Forward.”
My favorite quote from the FAIL, FAIL AGAIN, FAIL BETTER is this: “Failing better means that failure becomes a rich and fertile ground instead of just another slap in the face.”
I do recommend that you get this book. The lady is wise.
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below and tell me your thoughts.
Chodron keeps pointing out that it’s never a one-shot deal. There will be many opportunities for failure and many ways to fall down. The trick is to work on learning how to use the failures and handle them in better ways. Save
There used to be a thing called “spare time” which was greatly anticipated and enjoyed by those who had it. It was the time we had available to do other things than work, developing our hustle-muscle, or striving for S.M.A.R.T. goals.
Spare time nourished us and kept us engaged and enjoying life. Spare time helped us to thrive in the middle of Life’s inevitable obstacles and challenges. We were able to find meaning and mana in our ordinary lives because of our spare time.
Where did all the spare time go?
THE RISE OF HURRY SICKNESS
For many people it’s become a point of pride and a badge of honor now to be “Crazy Busy.” The adrenaline rush of speeding through many tasks and communications can be addictive. It feeds our illusion that we are always in high demand, that we’re conquering new territory and moving toward something grand.
The breath-taking pace of technological breakthroughs that help us feed our addiction for effortless speed and “saving time” and keeping up with the all of everything while checking off to-do lists, hammering goals and piling up accomplishments is revved up and running, raining down every progressive technological wonder upon us and we are entranced.
Along with all the joys and blessings of our rapidly expanding technology, assorted researchers tell us, we are apparently experiencing an epidemic of “Hurry Sickness.”
THE MIND-BODY CONNECTION
Hurry Sickness is not some newly discovered phenomenon. The term was first coined by cardiologist Dr. Meyer Friedman.
Dr. Friedman and his colleague Dr. Ray Rosenman shared a cardiology practice in San Francisco in the 1950’s. They began studying and writing about the link between behavior and heart disease. Their then-controversial work introduced the concept of the mind-body connection that is still being investigated and explored by researchers today.
The doctors’ observations were published in a popular 1974 book, TYPE A BEHAVIOR AND YOUR HEART. It was the start of a whole new field of study for behavior researchers as well as a way to explain a lot about the consequences of human behavior on physical, emotional and mental well-being to the general public.
It started to turn the focus of their studies towards ways that people could help themselves look for and find ways to greater personal happiness.
“Type A personality” soon became a popular buzzword to describe the driven, tenacious and relentless strivers who were likely to snarl at slow-moving salesclerks and other minions, who were compulsive multi-taskers extraordinaire and often prone to road rage. More easy-going folks were categorized as “The Type B personality.”
Friedman’s life work was trying to get people with a Type A personality to behave more like people with Type B personality. He came up with a therapy regimen that was meant to modify Type A behavior.
As the good doctor was fond of reiterating, “You can’t change personalities. We just try for more B-like behavior.”
HURRY SICKNESS AND YOU
A YouTube Video published by the London School of Business, “Do You Suffer From Hurry Sickness?“ points out some of the less-extreme symptoms of Hurry Sickness observed by Richard Jolly, a London Business School professor and business coach.
According to Jolly, about 95 percent of the managers he has studied suffer from the illness, which has been defined as the constant need to do more, faster (even when there’s no objective reason to be in such a rush).
Some of Hallowell’s thoughts from the book are presented in this YouTube video, uploaded in 2006 by simplyab.
As Hallowell says in his book, “When we work too fast for too long we get tired, become inefficient, make mistakes, and become unable to think clearly and sharply.”
ANOTHER HIGH-STRESS SCENARIO
Our bodies and minds aren’t meant to endure continual stress. We get irritable, easily angered and upset from frustration and exhaustion.
Hurry sickness increases the body’s output of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system and has been linked with heart disease. Blood pressure spikes and eventually remains at an elevated level. Hearts wear out.
Chronic stress has also been found to trigger allergies, arthritis, obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and loss of appetite…it says here. Running all-out frantic is generally not good for health, productivity or happiness.
When our bodies and our minds stay in a constant state of overstimulation, it’s like being surrounded by lions and tigers and bears that work in shifts. Survival becomes the order of the day.
When you’re too busy, you don’t do anything well. Relationships suffer. Performance at work and productivity suffers.
As Jolly points out, when you are caught up in all of the minutiae of being connected every minute of the day and night, you cannot take the time to slow down a bit and ask the big, really important questions. You get too frazzled to entertain any creative thoughts.
Worst of all, you don’t enjoy life. How? You’re too busy flying from one thing to the next and you just haven’t got the time. If unchecked, studies have shown, all this jittering can lead to burn-out and depression.
Hurry sickness is not limited to executives and entrepreneurs.
A classic baby boomer children’s book, HURRY HURRY by Edith Thacher Hurd with old-timey illustrations by her husband Clement was a favorite of my children. In it, a nanny Miss Muggs who is always in a great hurry comes to stay with Suzie while her parents are away. Little Suzie gets pulled along faster and faster as the nanny’s great hurry leads from one disastrous situation to steadily worse ones.
[The Hurds were one of the children’s literature’s best-known teams in their time. The book was part of the “I Can Read” book series published by Harper Books. It came out in 1960 and it’s still a grand read.]
SEED THOUGHTS AND SUGGESTIONS
For real, it is surprisingly simple to overcome Hurry Sickness. The thing is, it ain’t easy.
The main thing to understand is the wise guys were right. There are just three things that can help you reach your freedom from busy:
Discernment (also known as asking the right questions)
Clarity (also known as deciding what and who are most important and necessary for happiness in your life)
Selectivity (also known as choosing to say “yes” to what is important to you, and “no” to everything else)
In later posts, I’ll be exploring these three. I’ll present exercises and such that you can try to help mitigate the effects of Hurry Sickness. There are all kinds of neat mind-games you can try. Some of them may work for you.
In the meantime, here’s a list of assorted books that you might like to explore: