My own experiments in crazy-quilting and then sashiko quilting had me going blind doing fancy-stitching with wild and crazy colors and patterns as well as tactile combinations of bumps and lumps that were a heck of a lot of fun for me and for the heart-friends to whom I gifted these bits of silliness.
That may be why this YouTube video, “Constellation Quilt,” (published in 2013 by Public Record) showing work by designer Emily Fischer and her design studio Haptic Lab caught my eye.
The idea, expressed in the video, of wrapping yourself up in stars and time caught at the strings of my imagination.
Then I saw another YouTube video, “Flying Martha Ornithopter.” This one was published in 2017 by Made Me Look. It, too, was about an object designed by Emily Fischer and Haptic Lab.
Like Fischer, I understand that kites, winged things and even flapping flags can help us humans explore the movements and flow of the invisible forces of wind. They can help us tap into the tactile joys of flight.
KINDRED SPIRIT FOUND
It seems to me that I have found another person for whom tactile and sensory design – how a thing feels in your hand and on your skin – is as important as what the thing looks like.
Even more importantly (for me anyway), here is a person for whom objects are repositories for the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.
Among the objects Haptic Lab produces are extraordinarily detailed street maps that they call SoftMaps that can be customized and personalized for individual customers to show where their stories have taken place.
It seems to me that designers like that are a rarity.
BEGINNINGS OF A COMPANY WITH A HUMAN TOUCH
Emily Fischer grew up in rural Wisconsin where she learned how to make such things as quilts and kites as a youngster. Even as an architect-wannabe, her crafty beginnings continued to find expression.
As an undergraduate student at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan in 2002, one of her projects was her first quilted map that she designed as a way-finding tool for the visually impaired.
The inspiration for the project was her mother Peggy who had begun to lose her eyesight through complications from glaucoma.
For these quilts, Emily combined her skill with computer-aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM) rapid prototyping tools, and open-source mapping software as well as her grounding in the old-school, painstaking craft traditions of quilting and needlework with her explorations of haptics (the way humans perceive objects and sensations through touch).
For years, she continued to make these quilts as side-projects while pursuing her career as an architect in New York City.
In 2009, during the extreme depths of the recession, Fischer was laid off from her job at a commercial architectural firm.
One of the first things she did was build a simple website with images of her experimental personal work that included objects exploring her interests in cartography and early flight.
About that time she says: “Almost immediately, design blogs like Cool Hunting started publishing images of my handmade quilts and kites. I was commissioned to construct a kite for an Opening Ceremony video directed by Matt Wolf. I got a message from ID Magazine (RIP). Then the Los Angeles Times. Then the New York Times. Suddenly everyone wanted to buy the quilted maps I was making. So within three weeks of losing my job, I accidentally started my own company.”
And so it began.
Fischer operates her accidental company, Haptics Lab, out of a Brooklyn studio with a small, close-knit team. The company is grounded in values that emphasize fair trade and sustainability.
For thoughts and insights Emily shared in a 2015 article for Design Sponge, “Ten Ways to Bootstrap a Sustainable Business: How I was able to meet expectations, make a living and not overwhelm myself and others while also respecting fair-trade practices,” click here:
It is an extraordinarily useful compendium of advice from one who has gone down the road a ways on a path that she says makes her happy.
FINAL FISCHER THOUGHTS
This YouTube “How the Founder of Haptic Lab Uses Design to Drive Positive Change” was created by Skiftx contents studio in 2017.
Here’s a poem:
AT THE CROSSROADS
Do I go straight ahead?
Do I turn left?
Do I turn right?
Do I go back?
Standing flatfooted in the middle
Keep standing there and
You’re likely to get run over
By some unheeding vehicle
That keeps on trundling along.
The roads in front spread outward
Leading to who-knows-where.
They stretch on to infinity, you know.
And “back” just means more same-old.
And here I am,
With my raw and bleeding heart
Pulling me towards
The one road that is so bright and shiny
That it takes my breath away.
The caution signs posted
Along that road are intimidating.
They jump up and down, even.
Loss and devastation, they declaim.
Doom-and-gloom, they promise.
Desperation and despair.
Aw, the heck with it, babe!
by Netta Kanoho
Header Photo credit: “Touching the World” by Joe Szilagyi via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
Back in the ‘70’s I ran across a small book of distilled teachings taken from talks given by Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki, ZEN MIND, BEGINNER’S MIND.
There was this quote in it:
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”
It spoke to me, that quote, and I’ve spent a lifetime trying to unpack the thing.
I’ll probably do other posts about Beginner Mind, so all I’ll say about it right now is that Beginner Mind is an ancient wisdom teaching that helps you develop what educator Barbara Oakley dubbed a “growth mindset.”
This way of thinking keeps you from locking into fixating on the same-old “shoulds” and “musts” and “that’s-the-way-it-is” that all of us humans tend to create as we experience life.
Beginner Mind is expansive. It’s not cluttered up by a lot of specious assumptions, expectations and preconceptions.
A gear-head analogy for Beginner Mind would be something like attaching a satellite dish to some receptor or other and having access to a whole bunch of channels.
Martial artists wax poetic about standing receptive to whatever comes at them when they talk about Beginner Mind.
Whatever. Beginner Mind is a very cool tool to have in your Life Toolbox.
That’s been my take on Beginner Mind for a while now.
It may be why the YouTube video, “Nurturing a Beginner’s Mind,” that I’ll be sharing with you towards the end of this post caught my attention.
The video is a production of INKtalk, an off-shoot of the TEDtalk phenomenon. INKtalk is organized by Lakshmi Pratury, who put together the first TEDIndia talks in Myosore in 2009.
(The reason the video’s at the end of this post is mostly because it introduced me to some other fascinating side-trails that I think are also worth exploring. Come take a look!)
TALKING ABOUT INK
The video I’m going to share with you (after a bit of dancing around) is an INKtalk published on YouTube in 2013.
It is one of a series of talks that have happened during the annual conferences, mini-conferences and salons coordinated and produced by INK, self-described as “India’s foremost platform for the exchange of cutting-edge ideas and inspiring stories.”
Click here for more information about INK and the talks:
Pratury wants the world to see INK as “a curator of contemporary oral history.”
The organization, she says, searches the world looking for people with stories and missions that center around innovative solutions for the broad scale problems that plague young economies, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
The stories they have gathered together are about innovative, world-changing ideas that address problems in recurring societal issues like education, governance, energy, health, poverty, and infrastructure.
The stories make for very interesting reading. Check them out.
ANOTHER WAY OF SCHOOLING
In the upcoming INKtalk video, Saba Ghole, a former architectural urban designer who became an education and technology entrepreneur, talks about the work she and the members of her team do at the NuVu Studio at Cambridge University.
Ghole is one of the co-founders of the NuVu Studio, which was a brainchild of fellow Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumnus Saeed Arida.
As part of his Ph.D. dissertation while at MIT, Arida explored the concept of a learning place modeled on the apprenticeship and project-based learning and hands-on problem-solving that is characteristic of an architectural studio.
Before he graduated, Arida implemented an on-campus pilot program at the Beaver Day Country School in Brookline. This pilot was so successful that it led to an even larger project.
Arida collaborated with Ghole and another fellow MIT student David Wang, an engineer and technology enthusiast, to launch NuVu Studio in 2010.
Wang collects degrees, it seems. He’s got them in aeronautics, astronautics, electrical engineering and computer science.
The three friends have a penchant for collaboration and they continue to gather people together so they can help other Makers build cool stuff.
NuVu Studio has become an amazing “innovation studio” that is an alternative full-time, trimester-length schooling experience for middle and high school students — baby Makers who want to learn how to grow their spirit of innovation and to experience hands-on, real-world problem-solving of the finest kind.
More than 3,000 students – mostly from the local schools in the Boston area — have gone through the program since it began.
It is a far cry from your regular school experience, as this short video, “What is NuVu,” published by HarvardX in 2017 illustrates:
Capitalizing on the immense resources of MIT and Harvard University, the Studio facilitates the participation of the students in multi-disciplinary collaborations with Studio-trained “coaches” who are themselves architects, engineers, or experts in science, leading-edge technology, music, art, photography, fashion, and more.
Many of the coaches are MIT or Harvard students who are excited about doing hands-on work in their fields as well.
They work in large open-space studios and workshops using state-of-the-art tools that include things like laser cutters, 3D printers, as well as more mundane tools and assorted building materials.
Here, students don’t get grades – they have portfolios showcasing their work and progress. Problems are tackled in weeks-long blocks rather than hour-long classes.
The students are challenged to learn in new ways.
Analytical thinkers are inspired to explore their creative selves while creative students expand their capacity to think and learn analytically.
Whole-brain thinking is nurtured and encouraged.
The goal for these students is to make products that solve real-life problems that the students have defined with the help of their coaches using “themes” selected by the organizers.
In the video, Ghole presents a collection of wonderfully clear insights about the components that make up the Beginner’s Mind stance.
(By the time she did the talk Ghole had already been working on helping to grow creativity and innovation for a number of years.)
The three big ideas are as follows:
THE POWER OF MIXING
Mixing together people (experts and neophytes), combining assorted themes that relate back to the real world, and tinkering – also known as breaking and re-making (which includes repurposing and reusing, collaboration with other minds and making use of open sourcing platforms to find ideas) – are the foundations that the Studio uses to encourage and support the students in their efforts to produce novel and effective solutions to problems they have chosen to pursue.
WHAT MAKES THE HEART OF A BEGINNER?
Ghole says the Beginner’s heart is an intriguing mix of Trickster, Craftsman and Poet.
Each of these are archetypes that come with sets of behaviors that are often focused on seeing the world in ways that are different from group-mind and consensus.
NOT 2, NOT 1 (BOTH 2 AND 1)
This is the best iteration I’ve ever seen of the concept of wu, a really esoteric and dizzy-making ancient teaching that proposes that when two ideas (or people) come together, the dynamic interaction, relationship and flow between them produces a third idea or concept or way of moving that combines aspects of both.
She explains the three pairings that the Studio uses to try to ignite new thinking among their students: Process + Product, Mindful + Mindfulness, and Fiction + Reality
I found the whole thing mind-blowing. I hope you enjoy it too.
Here’s a poem:
WHERE IS THAT KNIFE?
If I rehash the old stuff,
They come alive again,
And I make the threads
Just by adding
Strands of thought –
Little, tiny thoughts –
Like fibers crowded together,
Tighter and thicker,
Turning into one heavy-duty rope,
Turning into one huge knot.
Where’s that knife?
I had it a minute ago.
I need it to cut through this stupid knot!
Back to beginner mind….
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Photography In The Garden” by Olds College via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
We don’t usually think about poverty in terms of time. After all, each one of us has the same 24 hours every day, right? How can one person be “time richer” or “time poorer” than another person?
And yet there is this notion of “time famine” that’s been around since the 1990’s. It’s an epidemic, those guys who look at population trends tell us.
In this brave new post-modern fast-paced world, more and more of us are wandering around moaning about how we don’t have enough time to do all the everything we have to do.
One eye-opening YouTube video is “The Time You Have (In Jellybeans)” published in 2013 by zefrank, a funny-guy philosopher I like.
The video graphically illustrates the ways an average American uses time. It also asks a very important question at the end. This video has been viewed by millions of people since it was posted.
LOOKING AT THE SIGNS
Time-starved people spend endless hours trying to tweak the inflexible, immutable time supply. They live in a constant state of rolling personal crisis.
Over and over they try to squeeze just a little bit more productivity out of their daily time allotment. The result often is a mountain of paper charts, large collections of time-saving devices, systems and apps…and not much relief, it seems.
The symptoms of time starvation include the feeling of being rushed, of time “getting away” from us, of always playing catch-up, and of trying to “make do” and “do more” with our available time, an inherently finite and immutable resource-turned-commodity.
[Small pause for definitions. “Resource” is something you use. “Commodity” is something you sell.]
Researchers who study the “time-starved” say time-poor people report being more stressed and less satisfied with their lives than other folks.
They often feel overwhelmed by their everyday lives. They report a constant feeling that they have no time for the things that matter most to them.
Somehow, they feel as though they are being squashed flat and are turning into extras in a zombie apocalypse movie.
STARVATION IS BAD FOR YOUR BODY AND MIND
Time starvation has very real physical and psychological effects. It plays havoc on your state of well-being.
One groundbreaking national study of more than 10,000 employees in the United Kingdom found that employees with a sense of time poverty called in sick three times more often.
Even more disturbing, the study found that the mortality rate of those who felt chronically pressed for time was also three times higher at the same age.
Apparently, more money doesn’t seem to help. In fact, according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2011, the more money you have, the more likely you are to suffer from time-starvation. The poll concluded, “The more cash-rich working Americans are, the more time-poor they feel.”
WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET
The thing is, all of the wise guys since ancient times have told us that “time” is actually an illusion.
Events happen — one after the other. Period.
We see and experience these events. We make up stories that help us make sense out of them. Our feelings arise out of the stories we tell ourselves and each other.
And the stories we make are how we perceive time.
Time, like space, is just there.
How we feel about the whole megillah is what we use to build the world we make for ourselves.
The studies by smarty-pants dressed in lab coats keep on validating and confirming this.
The following YouTube video, “How To Have the Time of Your Life”, is a TEDxTotnes talk featuring Martin Boroson, the creator of One-Moment Meditation, which is a type of meditation training that helps people get to one moment of focused attention by “breaking through the time barrier” (it says here).
Boroson is an interesting man. He studied philosophy at Yale and earned an MBA from the Yale School of Management as well. A Zen practitioner, he’s worked as a psychotherapist and theater producer, among other things, applying ancient wisdoms to modern day life.
THOUGHTS ON “FREE TIME”
In 2008, the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American fact tank based in Washington, DC, asked middle-class Americans to prioritize what was important to them in their lives.
Sixty-eight percent of people responded that having free time was very important — outpacing the importance of having children (62 percent), a successful career (59 percent), being married (55 percent), or being wealthy (12 percent).
Upper- and lower-class respondents essentially gave the same answers, the Pew study noted.
There were a slew of studies done around this factoid too, of course.
Anybody who’s old enough to spend time working for somebody else has probably noticed that some people have more control over their own 24 hours than others. A bunch of them even have control over YOUR time. Some of the researchers locked in on that.
It turns out that it’s not how much “free time” away from work or other obligations we have that affects our psychological and physical health. It’s the amount of control we perceive over our own time that counts.
Anybody who says, “Other people make the decisions about when I work,” and “I can’t decide for myself when I take a break” is likely to consider themselves time-poor.
A fairly new concept, “time affluence,” has risen up as a result of these studies, and a new category of lab-coat dudes and dudettes was born.
Tim Kasser, the researcher credited with coining the name, is the author of a book, THE HIGH PRICE OF MATERIALISM, which details how various studies say our well-being is adversely impacted when we organize our lives around material results.
The book goes on to propose assorted changes we can make in ourselves, our families and our society that could correct that.
Kasser also published a separate paper on the results of four empirical studies that documented the positive effects of feeling time-rich.
In it Kasser pointed out that these four studies showed that time affluence relieves stress, improves physical health and leads to greater involvement in the community, more positive ecological behavior and increased well-being, including job and family satisfaction – all at rates significantly higher than just making more money and getting more stuff.
“The economics of time are changing. I don’t think we need a new generation of economists who study time. I think we just need a bunch of people who come to their senses. Coming to our senses would be something like this: recognizing that we have a choice. We need the gumption to slow down with a portion of our lives and do what we know we need to do.”
One of the best bits of advice about it all comes from science writer Stefan Klein, in his book, THE SECRET PULSE OF TIME: Making Sense of Life’s Scarcest Commodity. Klein says, “We can stop seeing calendar dates and times as a corset we have to squeeze into and consider them simply resources for organizing our lives within the larger community.”
MY OWN THOUGHTS
I tend to agree. The one-size-fits-all model of time doesn’t make sense. Each person has their own natural rhythm and their own sense of inner time.
Whenever a bunch of us humans get together, we do need to sort of all move in the same direction in order to accomplish major things together, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve got to walk in lock-step to somebody else’s drum.
(Myself, I prefer thinking about Mardi Gras, Rose Bowl, and Aloha Festival parades rather than the ones displaying military might — everybody walking in lockstep with heads and eyes all front-and-center.)
As social change-maker and facilitator Shilpa Jain said, when she was the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Other Worlds (a non-profit organization affiliated with the United Nations):
“I think a core aspect of being able to be affluent with our time has to do with having a sense that our time is our own, and our stuff—and our limits around our stuff—is also our own. We can actually get a clear sense of how much I need, how much you need, and what is it we really can share together, and how we can pool our resources to be able to live the life we want.”
That one makes sense to me.
ONE LAST THOUGHT
This YouTube video, “Life Is Ticking Away – Time to Smile” featuring Sadhguru was published in 2016. It sure does make me smile. Enjoy!
Here’s a poem:
GETTING TO MINE
I have mine to do.
I’m not doing it and
It gets me riled at me.
I tell myself
I refuse to be
Some replaceable clog
In someone else’s clockworks.
I tell myself
I want to make mine.
I want to be
Building my worlds
That invite and entice,
Casting out lures to the Creative,
Shining up the place.
Come, come, come.
Let go of struggle, of strife.
There it is,
In a pile all over the floor.
It needs to be sorted out.
It needs to be worked and re-worked.
It needs to be dreamed on and refined.
I am called to play.
I am called to help other people play.
That doesn’t seem so hard….
I keep getting side-tracked.
I keep getting distracted.
This one’s imperative,
That one’s over-amping needy,
They tug at me,
Pulling me away from mine.
Mine only whispers at me.
The heartfelt shouts,
The moans and groans,
The fascinating puzzles
Begging to be unraveled and resolved
Pull me away from mine,
Drown out the whispers.
It’s a different kind of play, that,
Playing with other people.
I am good at it.
I like it when it works.
But, mine is languishing,
Piled up, all aglay, in heaps,
Begging for me to hear.
Wise guys say
You have to give up the good
In order to reach for the better.
So here I sit,
Looking at the stacks
Of mine still piled up
In the corners of my life.
I wonder if there’s a 12-step program for this stuff….
I’ve been noticing lately that there seems to be a lot of musings going ‘round about transforming your life by getting out of your field of work and trying something else.
When you’re feeling trapped and unfulfilled by the consequences of your previous professional and work choices, thinking about making a change is probably a go-to default.
The numbness in you that grows as your joy-switch keeps tripping off starts reaching epic proportions. You become one of the multitudes of the Disengaged.
Jumping off the conventional well-beaten path and running off down some other forest trail or hitching a ride on a boxcar going someplace else starts sounding mighty good. This durned road you’re on is not taking you where you want to be and it sucks.
IT’S NOT ABOUT GETTING A DIFFERENT JOB
This career-changing thing is not the same thing as changing jobs – i.e., doing the same thing you have gotten good at doing and moving (or being moved by circumstance or desire) to another company or a different division or some other project.
For that one, you’re just doing the same dance, only in a different place.
The traditional job market has all kinds of practical solutions for making changes if you’re wanting to do more of the same.
If you’re are an experienced knowledge-worker and a leader of some sort in corporate-world, there are “recruitment consultants” — intrepid headhunters looking for new trophies for their bag – as well as the CV/resume dance and the professional networking thing.
If you’re in the helping or service or sales professions, there are many online jobsites and job alert services and all sorts of folks in your own network that can help you find other places to do the work you’re already doing.
Creative sorts have similar resources in their own worlds as well.
Making a job change can take a tremendous lot of hustle and is likely to rearrange your life in many ways.
However, it is a truism:
Doing the same thing you’ve always done is
likely to get you the same results you’ve always gotten.
That is not a problem if you like the results you’ve been getting. It does become a problem if you don’t like those results.
WOULD YOU RATHER DO DIFFERENT?
The people to whom the career-change advice is aimed are the ones who may have accomplished some good stuff already.
After working in a field for a while and getting some accomplishments under their belts, they are feeling like their heart has gone missing somehow.
The drag starts getting heavy on them and the “good life” they may have built is just not satisfactory.
The thing that used to excite these folks has gotten stale. Maybe they are feeling ready to get growing in some other direction, having already explored one slice of the world as thoroughly as they feel they want to.
One lovely example of this mindset (along with some hard-won insights) comes from Felicia Ricci, a self-described “five-trick pony who loves to make creative mischief.”
Ricci is an author, performer, voice teacher and entrepreneur, who presented this lively talk, “How To Change Careers When You’re Lost” at the TEDxYale talk-fest in 2015.
Her writerly point is that your life is always in “draft mode.” You can revise, revise, and revise until you get it to your kind of “right.”
Ricci’s takeaway tips:
Ignore the odds. (If you’re innovative, the odds will never be in your favor. Do it anyway.)
Embrace the fear. (Revisions can be terrifying and stressful and you will freak out.)
Don’t decide by thinking, decide by doing.
HELP IS ALL AROUND YOU
Are you one of those who are looking for different?
There are career-change books, articles, and online videos and podcasts by assorted gurus and mavens and academic sorts which are loaded with information about the how of it all if you’re inclined to get into it.
There are numerous profiling tests and lots of systems to help you figure it out as well as lots of people who are willing to help you in your search for the new work-you.
A fairly new profession – career coach – has bloomed in the business jungle within the last couple of decades. You can buy the services of a native guide to lead you through the tangled, messy landscape of Change and hack your way through all that confusion.
There’s a fascinating collection of success stories put together by Careershifters, probably the largest more-than-profit online organization dedicated to helping people who are ready to reach for their own transformation.
This London-based group grew from a brain-seed planted by social entrepreneur Richard Alderson, who is a career-shifter his own self.
Click on this button to access the stories:
The button also takes you to the Careershifters website that introduces you to a bunch of resources and practical tools that can help you start your own life-meaning revision work.
GO OR NO?
There are, evidently, many ways to reach for transformation and make your own changes happen. (There sure are a lot of studies and lists and exercises and practices and all of that out there.)
Among all of this information, you’re sure to find moves that will resonate with you as you think and talk and do your way through the process of getting to your transition point.
The only one who can stop you from starting at this point is you.
So…what? No? Go?
As a person who is always looking for new wonderments to try, my own suggestion is that you have some fun and play around with various ideas until you find something that hits a major chord in you.
Maybe you’ll be lucky and there will several. Cool!
You may also want to take another look at all of the fun things or the things you do very, very well in that work you’ve been complaining about.
You can try mashing up all of these bits into something that’s unique to you.
Go forth and play, you!
My other suggestion is that you deliberately do all of this shimmying around as areplacement for that groaning, moaning and whining you’ve been doing.
Whining and acting helpless and hopeless is a habit, you know. All the smarty-pants guys in lab coats tell us that if you replace one habit with another habit, you’re likely to lose that first habit.
If you replace that old poor-thing-me habit with this career-shift project, you’ll be way too busy trying to make the puzzle pieces fit and then working out (and trying) ways to make them work for you that you’ll have no time left over for beating yourself up or feeling frustrated or put-upon.
Your energy level will probably go up because you’re interested in SOMETHING again and that interest just naturally will call up more energy you can use for more playing.
Once you get started doing this stuff, plans and projects and other moves – big and small — will become evident. As you work on those, they may even evolve into other things that are particularly intriguing.
You may start to notice opportunities to try out some of those wild and crazy ideas you’ve been growing. You may even try to do them.
Who knows? Something wondrous could come of it.
HOW TO FAIL AT TRYING TO TRANSFORM YOURSELF
I found one particularly interesting list in my Google-wanderings on a website, Project Management Hacks, that is put together by career advisor Bruce Harpham.
This list takes a look at the five mistakes people make when they are trying to do a career-shift. According to Harpham, these moves are most likely to lead to staying in the suck.
DO NOTHING. Dreaming and fuming in frustration does not get you out of there.
COMPLAIN. Self-expression and self-pity parties are helpful for pinpointing the problem, but it doesn’t do anything else (and probably turns off a lot of other people or brings them down).
RESIGN IMMEDIATELY. Taking off for parts unknown without a basic plan or any knowledge of your next steps is a pretty sure recipe for failure.
UNDERESTIMATE THE CHALLENGE. It’s hard enough trying to find a new place to do the same thing you’ve always done. Trying to break into another field is a heck of a lot more complicated.
For one thing, there are all of those other guys who have been doing what you want to do quite well, thank you. What does a wanna-be like you have to offer? (HINT: That’s where finding a something that is uniquely you will come in handy.)
THE DO-IT-YOURSELF TRAP. Why re-invent the wheel when it’s already been done for you?
Go talk to the people who have succeeded in doing what you want to do. Pick other brains and pay attention to what they say. Fit the lessons you find into that puzzle you’re building.
There are a heck of a lot of excellent people out there and some of their thoughts can be pretty amazing. Maybe one of their brainstorms might work for you or spark a good one of your own.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
Philosopher and writer Alain de Botton who founded another interesting online enterprise, “The School of Life,” points out, “When work is not going well, it’s useful to remember that our identities stretch beyond what is on the business card, that we were people long before we became workers – and will continue to be human once we have put down our tools forever.”
That’s a good thing to keep in mind, I am thinking.
Oh…and I do have one other suggestion: When you’re looking to do something different, don’t forget to pay attention to the crabby voice inside you that’s been snarking and side-swiping at you as you’ve been busy sinking into the suck.
It is probably the most important voice of all.
Sit your Inner Self down and let it give your Inner Dummy a good talking-to or three. Listen. Let the complaints wind down and look for what’s hidden in there underneath all that vinegar and vitriol.
Pay attention. You may be amazed at what it has to say.
Here’s a poem:
LET THEM HAVE….
Let them have their pie charts and their checklists.
Let them have their numbers two by two.
Let them have their second-guesses and procedures.
Keep the secret thing that makes you you.
Let them have their gurus and assistants.
Give them their assistants’ assistants too.
Let them have their politics and issues.
Don’t give up the drive inside of you.
Let them have their offices and meetings,
Their naysayers, their oracles, their orators.
All their mavens and spin-meisters too.
Keep your vision and your passion and your promise.
One of my favorite Einstein quotes is this: ‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’ Of all his theories, I think, it’s the best one.
Life is either sacred or it isn’t. Life is either amazing, just as it is, or it’s not.
You don’t even have to be a big brain to figure out that acting as if everything is a miracle and trying to respect and celebrate that premise as a “fact” will probably have different consequences than acting as if nothing is a miracle and, therefore, it doesn’t really matter what you do.
Our moves that arise out of each of these basic premises are very different. The life that results from making moves predicated on them are also very different.
Of course, most of us are not as “either-or” as Einstein or the assorted wise guys and smarty-pants who offer guidance on these things. For us, Life-Its-Own-Self mostly runs through a spectrum of “meh” with an occasional off-the-scale event featuring fireworks and other significant joyousness.
The daily grind and our jam-packed calendars and too-full to-do lists roll right over our days and leave us feeling flatter than street pizza.
We often end up moving faster than the speed of everyday miracles.
Our discontents blossom even as we accumulate all the touted “good stuff.” They grow as the pile of accomplishments and achievements increases and sprouts new projects and initiatives and so on and so forth.
It’s like we continue to cultivate the kudzu vines that got away from us and are even now taking over the landscape. YEEP!
SAVORING = MOVING AT THE SPEED OF MIRACLES
Countering the ubiquitous Meh Creep is not really hard to do and all of us can do it. With a minor investment of time and attention we can get so good at it that we can let the miracles in our life catch up with us.
It’s called “savoring,” described by dictionary.com most beautifully as, “giving oneself over to the enjoyment of.”
Fred Bryant, a social psychologist and professor at Loyola University in Chicago, wrote a very detailed and learned book, SAVORING: A New Model of Positive Experience in 2006. His co-author, the late Joseph Veroff, was a researcher and a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
That book grew out of his work analyzing a wide range of studies that focus on “being mindfully engaged and aware of your feelings during positive events”. It lists the benefits that come to you when you savor (i.e., enjoy) the good things that happen in your life.
The smarty-pants have figured out that paying attention to enjoying yourself helps you build stronger relationships, improve your mental and physical health and find more creative solutions to problems too. The wise guys always said that as well.
A beautiful illustration of “giving oneself over” is this YouTube video, “Far Leaves Tea: Slow Down. Pay Attention. Savor Life.” was published in 2017 by Far Leaves Tea as an explanation of the company’s mission.
BUT, WHERE DO I FIND THE TIME?
Considered as an abstract concept, “giving oneself over” may seem like an impossibility in the face of that overfull and ever-growing To-do List.
Sure, we’d all love to have huge blocks of time where we can devote ourselves fully to the moment.
A few hours on a quiet beach to gaze into the waves rolling in? Yes!
A whole weekend devoted to doing whatever we most love to do? Sure!
How about a sabbatical in the mountains with time enough to spare for exploring and dreaming? Yum!
And what happens? The latest crisis/trauma drama whirls us around and we get caught up yet again in the rough-and-tumble. ACK!
“Life is not made up of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years, but of moments. You must experience each one before you can appreciate it.”
While it’s true that you may not have weeks or days or hours of time to focus on the touchy-feely stuff, you do have moments. You do have spaces between and within the busy bits.
You can use those spaces to help yourself do some very small, very powerful things.
BUILD SOME SAVORING RITUALS INTO YOUR DAY. Find a few things that you do every day and make them into a special ritual for savoring.
You might want to copy the Far Tea guys and build a ritual around your early morning tea or do one in the mid-afternoon. (Coffee works for this as well.)
Taking a tub bath can be a ritual to savor.
Reading to your child or snuggling with a loved one are others.
SAVOR THE FOODS YOU EAT. Don’t just cram stuff in your mouth. Pause for each bite. Give the food in your mouth space. Notice the taste and the texture. Think about where the ingredients of a dish came from, who made it, what went into it.
It’s a funny thing. Several studies have shown that speed of eating may be a factor in the problem of being overweight. Apparently, people who quickly shovel food into their mouths are more likely to overeat. By taking the time to pay attention to and enjoy what you are eating, there is less of a tendency to speed through a meal, gobbling up more and more and more.
Taking the time to taste and feel the foods you eat also allows you to develop a feel for the kinds of foods your body really likes. Very often these foods are good for your body.
Also, slowing down and paying attention to how your body reacts to the food you eat allows you to notice when you are full. You stop eating.
SAVOR THE CHORES YOU DO. Slow down and pay attention to what you are doing, especially when it’s some task that you dread. When you’re writing that stupid report, when you’re cleaning the bathroom or doing your taxes, slow down.
Ask yourself what is enjoyable about it.
Notice how you position your body, how your hands move, how you breathe as you do the task.
Enjoy your skill at getting the surfaces you’re working on super-clean. Appreciate your ability to work with words or numbers or the tools you are using.
ENJOY LITTLE PLEASURES. The French culture emphasizes the value of little treats, “petits plaisirs.” They understand, the French, that taking the time to indulge in small pleasures add a little bit extra to an ordinary, mundane experience.
A scented candle or a single gardenia floating in a dish can add a little bit of richness to the air around you.
A special pen or fine papers can make writing a letter to a special friend a pleasure that beats out a post on FB or yet another Tweet.
Looking for and indulging in little joys like this consistently can change the pace and the flavor of your days without a lot of huge money outlay or massive planning. Their effects are cumulative; they can add up.
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN WHAT YOU ARE DOING RIGHT NOW. Avoid thinking about what else you could be doing. Just do what you are doing and when it’s done, enjoy the doneness of it.
If you can pay attention and savor what you are doing right now, then eventually you will be able to give many of the moments of your life the space and attention they deserves.
No moment cannot be savored. Even the ones when you are stuck in a not-so-pleasing routine can be given your attention and your focus. Perhaps you might come up with some new ways to make the everyday routine more pleasurable if you do this.
Savoring the way you are spending your time and feeling what is happening when it is happening helps you appreciate how you are spending the time of your life. That awareness and appreciation and reveling in the moments of your life can lead you to growth in a direction you find more pleasing. A good thing.
These are all little things, it is true. The Real is, however, life is actually made up of little things.
ONE MORE TAKE
This video, “Savor the Coffee Not the Cup” was published in 2017 by Rushabh Dediah. It presents a little bit of wisdom that I wanted to share.
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that the world is a communion of subjects and not a collection of objects. [Everyone and everything in the world has a story. You can connect to the story if you lead with curiosity rather than judgment.]
It has occurred to me (many times) that everybody walks through worlds made of stories. The stories are, after all, how we make sense of ourselves.
Our own stories – our struggles, our mistakes, the choices we make and the results of those choices, the lessons we’ve learned and the ones we keep ignoring – are windows through which we display who and what we are. Each of us has a unique, custom-made story that we rework every day.
And since there are only so many ways any human can move through the world, each of us is very likely to find similarities and insights in every other person’s story. These findings can often be applied to our own selves.
Probably that’s why we like looking through other people’s windows. Probably that’s why other people’s stories fascinate us.
Some smarty-pants scientists who research such things tell us that our brains fire up more strongly as we listen to a story rather than to a list of factoids and dry-as-dust measures and measurements.
Our minds go sailing off into other worlds on the wings of a story well-told. The best storytellers transport us.
We actually can “see” where they have been and their words take us along with them on their journey-memories. Our brains rev up and go into overtime. We remember stories.
That’s a heck of a lot different than the sleepy-time induced by power-point presentations and soporific lectures that pile a lot of facts on our heads and bury us in a confusing avalanche of teeny-tiny details that don’t actually help us put together any kind of coherent picture.
Crabb believes that it is the connection that forms between people that is important in the act of storytelling and story-listening.
He says, “I think some people think it’s all about talking about you, you, you. But what it really is is reaching out into the void and connecting with people and letting them know they are not alone.”
The Moth, an acclaimed nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to the art and craft of storytelling, has been flying high for more than 20 years now. It’s the brainchild of writer George Dawes Green.
Here’s a YouTube video, “The Courage to Create,” that was published by Cole Hahn US in 2016. It features Green talking about the transformation that happens onstage when storytellers tell a tale and their audiences connect with it.
The Moth attracts all kinds of storytellers – bad and good boys and girls, and the famous, the infamous and the anonymous. And, many times, the magic happens – over and over again.
HOW THE MOTH WAS BORN AND GREW
George Dawes Green loved the storytelling sessions at his friend Wanda’s home on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia where he grew up. The moths that gathered around the porch lightbulb and the magic of friends gathered together, drinking bourbon and “talking story” were a part of the parcel.
After he became a published author and was living in New York, Green began missing the story sessions on Wanda’s porch. He wanted to recreate the experience, where ordinary people could deliver well-crafted, well-told personal stories, for his friends.
Green started hosting gatherings of storytellers in his New York loft, and the magic he remembered kept happening.
By 1997, Green’s idea had grown into a nonprofit organization named after the moths he remembered. Twenty years later The Moth had presented over 20,000 stories, told live and without notes to standing-room-only crowds worldwide.
Thousands of people have participated in Moth storytelling workshops, performance opportunities, and StorySlam competitions.
There’s a Moth Podcast that’s downloaded more than 44 million times a year as well as a Peabody-award winning radio show, The Moth Radio Hour, which airs on 450-plus public radio stations around the globe.
There’s even a Moth Corporate Program that provides industry-specific storytelling solutions.
And then there are the books. In 2013, The Moth published its first story collection. The list kept growing.
This YouTube Video, “THE MOTH: The Best Storytellers In The World,” was published in 2013 by THNKR.
It showcases a behind-the-scenes look at the astonishing effort and enthusiasm that goes into getting the storytellers ready for performing in one of the most prestigious live shows in the line-up that the group produces and it touches on what the participating storytellers get out of doing it.
It is a revelation that there are all of these people who have the guts to volunteer and come forward to tell their own story in front of a large crowd of strangers.
What’s so mindboggling, however, is that all of the other people who attend the events have made the effort and taken the time to come and listen to strangers, regardless of the topic.
As one commentator pointed out, “In a world of negativity, this…allows people to escape from the concept that everything must be internalized and that we are alone.”
I agree that “it may very well be one of the biggest acts of love this world has to offer.”
Here’s a poem:
CHICKEN SKIN KINE
In the streetlight halo at the corner,
Cocky young ones gather
To whisper warnings to each other
In spooky-story guise.
Don’t stop for that white-clad woman
Hitching a ride in the dark night.
Turn to challenge her strange silence,
Find her changed…or just not there.
Don’t carry pork over certain mountains.
There are spirits lurking in the passes there.
The pork will draw them to you and they’ll surround you.
Give them what you carry; maybe they’ll release you.
Another road, a moonless, starless night.
Quiet paws padding, the snick of sharp claws pacing behind you.
Don’t turn your head; there’s nothing there.
Show no fear; you might make it to the light.
Honor now the ancient kapu laid upon this place.
Those there are who pass in proud procession,
Ghostly torches lighting their endless path through time.
Hide. If they see you, they may take you with them.
The darkness presses inward, heavier with each new warning.
Tendrils of gossamer terror quietly spin out, a web
That catches at the day-bright glow of innocence and joy
And leaches into the wanderer’s golden longing for home.
Bold laughter chokes
In throats turned tight with dread
Of the easy road home,
Shrouded now by the magical night.
by Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit: “Sunrise, sunrise” by Chris Chabot via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Thanks for your visit. I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.
Probably every wanna-be Creative has been told (at some point or other) that in order to reach their full potential as a writer, visual artist, musician, performer or whatever, it is imperative to “find your own voice.”
Now, in the Age of Social Media and Self-Branding — when the “Creative Mindset” is supposed to be The Way to $ucce$$ and Happiness — we are told that we must go looking for our individual, unique voices. Our success depends on it.
I confess, I almost lost it when a pragmatic, more literal-minded friend snarked, “I KNOW where my voice is. It’s right here in my mouth!” Gales of laughter came bubbling up.
Explaining this “voice” thing gets confusing because even people who are engaged in developing themselves in a craft or an art or some other skill that doesn’t use words and doesn’t engage the mouth’s ability to make sounds can get all tangled up in trying to figure out how to find their own “voice.”
Now that the business world has turned on to getting creative, it seems that everyone wrestles with the idea of developing a voice.
There are Titans out there – the guys who built empires using their strengths and compensating for their weaknesses by surrounding themselves with people who have other, complementary strengths. Lots of people admire them and want to be them.
There are Mega-Stars and Rainmakers and Heroes and Idols and Headliners and Leaders and Big Cheeses and High Muckamucks and Household Names and Treasures and Wonders and Leading Lights and so on and so forth, ad nauseum.
Every one of them will probably tell you that they reached the stratosphere of massive accomplishments because they were successful in finding their own unique “voice.”
WHAT IS YOUR VOICE?
This concept of the elusive “voice” all wanna-be Successes are supposed to be nurturing is the crux of a story I encountered in a blog published by a flamenco dance teacher, Rina Orellana.
She relates how students come to her asking, “How do I find my voice? How do I allow myself to become the dancer I want to be?”
When dancers ask her this, she says, to her it’s an indication that the dancer is “not quite comfortable in their skin. They’re thinking too much and not feeling or allowing themselves to be in the movement.”
Her advice to these students is particularly insightful, I think.
Orellana tells them that they “need to allow themselves to be the bad-asses that they are” and she reminds them to “look at themselves in the mirror not to correct any physical part of the dance but to CONNECT with themselves as the person dancing.”
She assures them that looking at themselves in the mirror with acceptance will ultimately lead to their being confident in their movement and in their skin.
Being comfortable in your own skin is how you tell when you are speaking with your own voice.
Your “voice” is how you’re recognized by others. It’s the “tone” and the themes of your body of work (whatever it is).
Every time you do anything that other people notice, whether you’re an artist, a businessperson, an intellectual, a scientist or a geek, you are also putting your values and the unique perspectives and skills you bring to your work on display.
What is on display is the meaning and the mana that you have developed so far in your life. Your work shows how you are standing in the world.
Like every other human thing, your “voice” changes as you grow and evolve. It develops nuances and layers. It deepens. It may develop greater clarity or get muddied up by life-induced confusions.
As an accomplished dancer and teacher, Ornella says, she cannot help passing along her own ways of moving and styling as well as the basic theories and techniques surrounding the craft.
However, in the middle of all that, her aim as a teacher is to encourage each individual dancer to find and focus on the movements that feel “right” for the dancer and to explore the rhythms that resonate.
Kevin Fitz-Gerald, a professor at the USC Thornton School of Music, in this YouTube Video “ARTS: Finding Your Voice,” which was published by the school in 2007, agrees with Ornella. The video was produced by artistshousemusic.org.
As Fitz-Gerald points out in the video, the things that his students point to as things they don’t like about themselves are very often what sets them apart and makes them unique individuals. It is those things that can help them move beyond being “average” or “mediocre” and generic.
Both of these teachers advise their students to discover and develop their own natural strengths and make allowances for their inherent weaknesses and limitations by working on improving their techniques and by choosing a framework within which they can reach for their best work.
Both of them say that you will only be able to discover and use your own voice to present a message that is unique to you when you are able to explore and accept the whole package that is you.
VOICE, AUDIENCE AND YOU
All performers (and businesspeople are performers too) need an audience. It’s part of the dynamic of this self-expression jones Creatives have. They trip out on the reactions they can engender in their audiences.
Every Creative understands that their audience will have an effect on how the artist does what he or she does. Often the audience will determine whether the artist can continue to do it.
As a performer you want your audience to actually see who you are. You want them to pay attention to what you have to say. The audience doesn’t have to like what you say. They don’t even have to like you.
Getting these others to pay attention to what you need to say can be the most important, life-affirming thing a human can do.
As a young girl who was a victim of sexual abuse by a trusted adult, acclaimed poet Maya Angelou had to choose between going silent and remaining trapped in an untenable situation or finding and using her own voice to get the help she needed to escape and to transcend this soul-shattering thing.
The girl chose to speak, and she kept on speaking and affirming life throughout her long and productive time on this earth.
In this YouTube Video, “Finding My Voice,” published in 2010 by visionaryproject, she tells how she brings herself out of her inherent tendency to go silent and closing herself down by deliberately making herself speak and speak and speak.
As Angelou points out in the video, mutism and freezing when overwhelmed by the circumstances in your life can be a very dangerous thing. It can become too comfortable.
You become invisible.
Angelou was acclaimed as a poet, story-teller, and writer. At one point she became an actress, playwright, producer, and director. She was renowned as an educator and as a civil rights activist.
Angelou died in 2014, at the age of 86. Throughout her long life, she was not invisible.
THE SHAPE OF THE SELF YOU SHOW
Your audience – anybody who’s watching what you do – will respond to the You that you present to them in your performance. They can only know what you choose to show.
Maybe you’ve decided to spend your time imitating what those who have become the icons and the “best-of-class” in your field do. Maybe, you think, if you do what they did, then you will glow with their kind of shine.
There’s only one problem with doing this: The You that you are showing to your audience will never be more than just a copy of somebody else.
For example, there are excellent Elvis imitators out there. They serve a useful function: They help keep the legend of that good ole boy alive. But, really…off the top of your head, can you actually recall the names of these performers?
The same is also true in any other field of human endeavor. Imitation is its own reward. Maybe you win a lot. Mostly not.
I suppose, “finding your voice” is all about choosing the You that you want the World to know. And, probably, you do hope that the You that you choose to show will not be ignored, dismissed or mocked.
Let’s be frank here. You really do want at least some of the other people in this world to like that self you’re showing them because, basically, you do need to win enough support for what you are trying to do so you can keep on doing it.
Part of that is a matter of survival. You have to eat. You need a place to lay your head that’s more comfortable than a piece of cardboard under some highway underpass. You need to take care of the people you love too.
And you have to achieve all that among all these other people (seven billion and counting) who are wanting to do the same thing as well.
However, it seems to me that if you’re any kind of a Maker, what you really want out of all this dancing around is to get to a place where you will have the freedom to get on with doing what you like to do best.
HOW DO YOU GET ON THE BUS?
The biggest problem with all this head-scratching and mooning around trying to hear your own voice is, as jazz great Miles Davis once pointed out, often a matter of spending enough time just doing what you want to do. Miles said, “Sometimes you have to play for a long time to be able to play like yourself.”
For one thing, there are a lot of different “selves” inside every one of us.
All the wise guys and smarty-pants agree. All of us humans are pretty much assemblages, made up of the bits and pieces we’ve picked up over time from the other people around us as we continue to wander through the world.
These assorted bits get glued onto the basic package. Sometimes all those life-bits turn us into lumpy messes.
To find the self that best encourages other people to respond positively to your spending your days in ways that resonate with that self you actually started out being can be a bitch of a project.
Every hour of every day and night you’re dealing with the pressures and demands of all of your dailynesses. Work, and the needs of your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors, and your stuff eat up your time.
Trying to deal with satisfying other people’s priorities, goals and expectations and maintain the life you’ve become accustomed to is often simply overwhelming.
Now, on top of that, we’re supposed to dig out our true selves and find our own voice as well? Ri-i-i-ght….
Todd Henry is the founder of Accidental Creative, a company that works with people and companies all over the world to foster creativity, productivity, leadership and passion for work.
Besides explaining why finding your voice is important if you are looking for the meaning and mana in your ordinary life and in your work, Henry puts forward questions to ask and ways to find your own answers to them.
Here’s a list that he put together:
What angers you? What triggers an urge in you to rectify a great wrong?
What makes you cry?
What have you mastered? What do you do well?
What gives you hope? What do you look forward to?
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
If you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do?
What would blow your mind?
What platform do you own?
What change would you like to see in the world?
If you had one day left, how would you spend it?
YET ANOTHER 30-DAY CHALLENGE SERIES
It occurred to me that Henry’s question list would make good 30-day challenge material. Here’s the how-to:
Grab an ordinary small-kid kind of composition notebook and a pen and label it “The Voice Project.” (No need to get fancy with this.)
Now, choose one of those Henry questions or make one up that’s your own, then make a commitment that for just ten minutes every day for the next 30 days, you will think on that one question and write down your answer to it in that notebook you’ve labeled. (If the time you take to answer the question stretches past the five minutes, that’s fine too.)
Do this notebook thing every day for 30 days. Be honest with yourself. Nobody else is going to see this thing. Just you.
If it starts to get boring, you might want to use colors and drawings and other stuff to illustrate the thing. Cut out magazine pictures and stick them in there. Write a poem. Whatever. Have fun with it, but answer the question.
By the end of that time, you’ll at least get some idea about the kinds of thoughts that arise when you ask yourself this one question.
After you finish the first 30-day challenge with the question of your choice, do it again for the next question, then the next, then the next.
Ten minutes a day for thirty days equals 300 minutes – a minimum of 5 hours total in a 720-hour time period.
It’s less than the time spent attending yet another workshop or working your way through one more online course.
It’s less time than the time spent participating in networking events listening to everybody else’s pitches and slinging some your own self.
In between the question-answering sessions, you might want to go back and read over and look at the stuff you’ve produced. You might ask yourself whether you really agree with all this blather and B.S. you’re shoveling.
That’s when you really start figuring out what you actually think about the thoughts you think. You find the shape of your own basic self – the one that just sits there waiting for you to notice.
It gets to be quite fascinating after a while.
I notice that the weirdest result of this little exercise is how just answering these questions and others like them affects you in your daily life.
You might start doing things that surprise you: accepting an invitation to a gathering that you might normally not consider, taking on some project or supporting a cause that resonates strongly with you, or trying something you never tried before just to see whether you might like it.
These things may have some pretty amazing results. It can be a very good thing.
Here’s a poem:
THAT IS THE SAD
Melancholy sits, a knot at the small of my back,
My companion as I walk through sunshine and through rain,
As I do my days,
Charging at windmills,
Taking in the wonderments,
Drinking down the joyousness,
Choking on the tears.
Maybe I’m understanding now:
The sadness is only the residue
Left behind as a flood flows
Through my heart cave yet again,
Leaving behind a high-water mark.
You know, of course, that all that shiny stuff
Running through all of our heart-caves are
Tributaries that merge together into a great river
Running through this ancient universe,
Pumped out by the jostling masses of living creatures,
Flowing all together like the notes of one grand song.
The birds singing their morning hosannas as they greet the sun
Go on through their day with the sound of that
Mighty chorus sounding in their ears,
Content that they’ve established their place in the world.
I am thinking we humans are no less connected than they,
But ours is a darker richer song,
Its complexity woven into our days and nights like a subsonic rumble
As we delude ourselves into believing we are immune –
Apart somehow – from the music we are making,
That grandiloquence that touches the edges of our own universe and beyond.
We fool ourselves and think we can sidestep the consequences
Of our myriad tiny choices,
That we can stand apart and inviolate, away from the all of everything.
And so we stand uncertain, unsure that this how, this place is righteously ours…
Unlike the bold birds who understand otherwise.
That’s the deep sadness, I am thinking,
The “suffering” wise guys ponder – this forgetting that is uniquely human –
The disremembering that, one and all, we are
The favored children of this old universe…
Welcome, gifted and alive,
Swimming in the same golden stream.
That willful denial keeps us grabbing at the silly, glittering flotsam,
That awful lostness rasps and scrapes us raw,
Dogging our days and trotting us around all crazy.
You have a really crazy idea that you absolutely, deep down in the pit of your stomach, KNOW will be totally RIGHT for you. You want this. You irrefutably NEED this!
You get a truly awesome limited-time chance to make it happen and it is imperative that you do this thing right now, or else….well, you just keep doing whatever you’re already doing.
Right then fear will rear its ugly head.
You get the shivers running up and down your spine. All the hair on your body — on your arms and behind your neck — stand up. Sweat pours out of you.
Your eyes narrow down and your nostrils flare as you get really, really focused and all the Boogey-Man thoughts take over your brain.
Your head aches because all of your internal sirens are wailing and every one of the alarm bells are bonging and clanging.
Maybe you start trembling. Maybe you want to cry. Maybe you want to throw up.
You get tense and you are all ready to rabbit away…run-run-RUN! Or you freeze in place, paralyzed by all the noise in your head.
(Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m exaggerating a bit. Sometimes you’ll just get a squirmy feeling in the pit of your stomach, nervous foot-shuffling and a really dry throat. Other times it’s just a teensy twinge of tingly nerve endings rather than a full-blown panic attack.)
WARNING! WARNING! WOOT! WOOT! WOOT!
I’ll bet that every time you were on the verge of doing something that was different than what you had done before — every time you tried to push the edges of your comfort zone and every time you tried to go somewhere or do something that you really wanted to do or faced something that was new-to-you and most uncertain — all this trauma-drama showed up like a scary pop-up.
It is a given: Fear will show up EVERY time you’re growing or going in the direction of your dreams and every time you have to face something new or different or other.
Fear always shows up when you are getting ready to undergo any kind of change — anything that disrupts the life you’ve known so far.
It doesn’t matter that the change is going to bring good things into your life or stop bad things from happening.
It’s Change-with-a-capital-C, and with change there will always be that feeling of risk. There will always be the feeling that you’re stepping out of line somehow.
Basically, the smarty-pants who study such things say that all these body-symptoms of fear are like the blip-blip-blip of the standard-issue radar equipment that’s part of your internal early warning system.
As you go through your day, your mind always scans ahead, looking for things that are out of place or different. When it detects something that is not-the-same, your brain responds by sending out these fear signals throughout your body.
Fear puts you on alert. This is fear’s job. It gets you ready to respond to whatever is coming out of the ethers at you.
Fear is a signal that you are moving into a situation that is different than what you’ve experienced so far.
It is invaluable when you are facing situations that are dangerous and/or life-threatening.
(If you’ve survived for a while in the world, you’ll probably be able to recognize those dangerous or dicey situations easily enough and can work on figuring out how to avoid, mitigate or arrest any developing debacles.)
It becomes problematic, however, when the fear-signals trip you up on your way to your own kind of better.
WHEN THERE’S A TIME-LIMIT
The worst thing about this automatic response-readying system we call “fear” is that it can screw up your ability to take an appropriate action at the time when it’s really needed.
There are times when you are one critical choice away from accepting an opportunity to move forward and reach towards whatever goal you’ve set and that choice is in-your-face right NOW.
If you let the fear-signals stop you, the chance for change will dissipate. It just won’t be there anymore.
Maybe that’s okay for you.
But, what if it’s not?
In one of his blog posts, productivity and marketing guru Seth Godin once pointed out, “By the time the fear subsides, it will be too late. By the time you’re not afraid of what you were planning to start/say/do, someone else will have already done it, it will already be said or it will be irrelevant.”
Godin advises that you can use your fear-signals to guide you in your actions. Rather than shying away or coming to a dead stop, he suggests that you go towards that thing that’s scaring you.
He says, “The reason you’re afraid is that there’s leverage here, something that might happen. Which is exactly the signal you’re looking for.”
If you can make a practice of moving forward to meet and deal with your fear of the opportunity you have been given to make progress in the direction you want to go and to do what you really want to do, then maybe you’ll be able to find more and more ways to keep on doing that.
Maybe you’ll even grow enough to be able to keep on doing it over and over again until you make your dream become real.
The quintessential go-for-it guy, Richard Branson, once said, “Don’t let fear hold you back from achieving your full potential…I know I’d rather look back on life and say ‘I can’t believe I did that’ than ‘I wish I’d done that’. How about you?”
HOW TO GET MOVING WHEN YOU’RE SCARED
The thing you have to understand, though, is that your body is really lousy at math and logic.
Rational thoughts and piles of paper spreadsheets, goals, schedules, and lists of pros and cons as well as to-do lists constructed in your more lucid moments do not help make the fearful, fearsome blip-blip-blipping stop.
Being all prepared and everything won’t get you moving.
This YouTube Video, “The Secret to Stopping Fear and Anxiety (That Actually Works) was published in 2017 by motivational speaker Melanie “Mel” Robbins. She is an on-air commentator on CNN, a television host and a serial entrepreneur.
The technique Robbins demonstrates in her video is one she developed to help people understand that the kind of fear you experience when you are trying to do something outside your own comfort zone can actually be reframed as “excitement” and can be used to push yourself forward.
“The secret isn’t knowing what to do – it’s knowing how to make yourself do it,” she says.
“Pay attention!” What happens in your head when you hear those words?
Childhood memories of parents, teachers and other Big People ordering you to do it probably aren’t your fondest memories. It almost always meant, “I’m going to tell you something you probably are not interested in or something you don’t want to hear. Listen anyway!”
Public address and warning system pronouncements and alerts that begin with “Attention!” are either boring, unintelligible, or scary…stuff that produces sinking feelings in the pit of your belly or a blank-out of white noise in your head.
In the military and other groups, “Attention!” is an order. There’s even a special, specified way to “stand at attention” that indicates to the leader-person that you are, indeed, alert and ready to receive your next order.
I suspect that whenever most of us hear the call for attention, there’s a kind of automatic shut-down.
For many of us, our attitude on being ordered to attend to something is summed up by Quora contributor Josh Manson’s comment in this 2015 thread that centered around defining the meaning of the phrase:
I am too broke to pay attention most of the time.
I’m too broke to pay my respect to anything.
I am ok with paying no mind to things that don’t concern me.
To pay means to give something of yourself to another. It is normally associated with money, so we don’t need to specify anything when it’s money we pay, it will be assumed. But to pay attention or pay respect is still giving something of yourself to another.
One question that springs to mind is this: “Okay, so I pay attention. What does that buy me?”
THE VALUE OF PAYING ATTENTION
As adults, the value of paying attention is likely to be self-evident. Somehow, we know, it’s the key to many things related to our lives.
We have to pay attention to walk across a busy street.
Our self-esteem and the authenticity of the way we walk develop according to the attention we give to our own thoughts and feelings, needs and values, beliefs and ideas.
Our happiness and the satisfaction and fulfillment we feel as we meet the goals and aspirations we set for ourselves is enhanced by our attention.
Our relationships and the communities we build are a lot more satisfying if we actually pay attention to each other and to the world around us.
Our business affairs, our careers, and the work we do to develop various skills require our attention.
Learning anything new demands our focused attention.
Our finances certainly benefit from our attention.
If we have health issues, we need to pay attention to our way of living in order to heal ourselves.
We can miss many of the moments of our life because we are not fully present for them and are moving around on auto-pilot, going through our daily routines, unaware of what we’re doing or experiencing as we ignore the world around us and multi-task our way through our days.
ATTENTION VS JUDGMENT
Okay. Now it gets convoluted.
In order to do this “paying attention” thing right – the kind that can change our lives — first we have to understand that there is a difference between “attention” and “judgment.” Very often the definitions of those two words get mixed up.
Attention is neutral. We just notice something. We “pay attention” to it and see that whatever we are noticing is just there and we are there with it.
Judgment, on the other hand, is what comes after the noticing. We humans are really, REALLY good at doing and fixing and solving stuff. Because we are bent that way, we tend to look at everything we see as something that needs to be assessed, critiqued, and then probably “fixed” or rejected or enhanced. We want to do something with this thing we noticed. We jump right in and start rearranging and moving stuff around.
We even do it to each other, which leads to all kinds of story-making, poetry, tragedy and comedy and such and all sorts of turmoil in our lives.
While “judgment” is certainly useful, it is not “attention.”
Attention is about noticing and being with something without trying to change it. Attention means taking the time to fully explore, to discover whatever there is to know about something, and to watch as things change by themselves with no interference from us.
Isn’t that starting to sound familiar? It’s like that stuff we’ve heard from all kinds of wise guys about “being mindful” doesn’t it?
It’s also a lot like what all those life-coaches and love counselors tell us about the most effective ways to enhance our relationships with others: Be open. Notice all those other people without judgment or criticism, welcome them, accept them, be patient, be kind.
The same advice applies to developing your relationship to your own self. (The best thing about being an adult is that we also have the capacity and the wherewithal to pay attention and to nurture our own selves as well.)
And the key to all of that is just simply to “pay attention.”
YOUR BRAIN ON “PAYING ATTENTION”
It’s an amazing thing. Numerous studies by neurologists and other smarty-pants scientists keep showing that the way we think and what we pay attention to does physically affect us and have tremendous impact on our lives. Those wise guys of old were right!
One 2009 best-seller book, BUDDHA’S BRAIN: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson, PhD with Richard Mendius, mixes neuroscientific breakthroughs with ancient wisdom teachings from thousands of years of contemplative practice and is filled with information about the practical tools and skills that help you deal with life in our complex and complicated modern world.
Hanson, a psychologist and a Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley California, is also the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. According to him, the scientists have found that “attention shapes the brain.”
What we pay attention to is literally what we will build in our brain tissue. Whatever we focus on affects how the neurons in our brains develop and wire themselves together.
This YouTube video, “How To Change Your Brain,” was taken at the Greater Good Science Center as part of the “Science of a Meaningful Life” series. It is a fascinating look at how mindfulness meditation, a way of practicing disciplined attention, is like training your muscles.
The practice, he says, can strengthen our brains as well as help us focus our attention.
Emily Fletcher is the founder of Ziva Meditation and the creator of zivaMIND, the world’s first online training (it says here). She is highly regarded as a leading expert in meditation for high performance.
Her YouTube video, “What You Put Your Attention On Grows,” was published in 2014. It is a lovely reminder that you do have a choice about what you want to pay attention to.
I’ve been beating my head on the wall I’ve made using the flood of abundance-mindset and positive-thinking books – past and present – that populate my shelves as well as articles and posts and audio tapes and video thingummies and podcasts that lurk in the spaces my computer can reach.
It all sounds so good. It’s all warm and fuzzy and smiley-face cool.
It’s also cotton-candy unsatisfactory. I’ve got a really bad sugar-high going and the crash is imminent, looming, and certain.
THERE IS PLENTY – INSIDE AND OUT
It’s a truth, you know. It really does feel better to understand that, for real, there is plenty for everybody and that we live in a spectacularly abundant natural world.
Understanding that there really is enough for you and yours is a marvelous thing to carry around with you in your head and in your heart.
As a wise old guy I knew once said, “You live most of your life inside your own head, so it makes sense to make sure it’s a good space.”
I’ve always liked that one. It’s been one of my guiding lights as I wander around in this old world.
No matter what’s going on outside, if my inside is together and is what Hawaiians call “pono” – righteous and balanced between myself and others – then I can keep on walking and keep on getting to where I want to go and I can walk lightly instead of stomping around like some cut-rate T. rex. (Dinosaurs are so yesterday, ya know.)
She says, “As long as we remain vigilant at building our internal abundance – an abundance of forgiveness, an abundance of service, an abundance of love – then external lack is bound to be temporary.” She’s right too.
Teacher, speaker, and author Charles Eisenstein has spent a lifetime looking at the Big Questions (Where do I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?) and fiercely focuses on themes like civilization as we know it, human consciousness, money, and cultural evolution.
His is one of the best explanations of the effects of so-called “scarcity thinking” I’ve ever come across.
“From our immersion in scarcity arise the habits of scarcity. From the scarcity of time arises the habit of hurrying. From the scarcity of money comes the habit of greed. From the scarcity of attention comes the habit of showing off. From the scarcity of meaningful labor comes the habit of laziness. From the scarcity of unconditional acceptance comes the habit of manipulation.”
And that’s another truth.
ABUNDANCE IS NOT ALL THERE IS
The thing is, I do sort of agree with Richelle E. Goodrich, a poet and novelist who does epic young adult fantasy books and has published a couple of collections of musings about life as well.
In one of her books, SMILE ANYWAY, she says, “You can add up your blessings or add up your troubles. Either way you’ll find you have an abundance.”
The whole abundance thing can easily get to be…well…sort of dogmatic.
It’s easy to maintain the mindset when you’re surrounded by supportive group-think folks. It’s like being in the middle of a wonderful group hug. It feels really good.
But, the whole abundance movement thing can get hairy when you’re not surrounded by like-minded people and affirmations are a really crummy shield when there are guys gunning for you and acting out of their own sense of scarcity and not-enough.
There are predators in the world.
There are manipulators.
There are bad breaks and you can get blindsided by factors and conditions you haven’t noticed or considered.
At any given time, there are resources that you want and need which are not available to you when you want or need them.
While it is a truth that you create your own world, it is also a truth that everybody else creates their own worlds as well…and together we make the world we all have to live in.
The one thing about being human is that nobody is the sole creator of this consensus world of ours nor are we the progenitors of Life-Its-Own-Self. Humbling, I know, but there it is.
Some parts of our consensus world are not so good. It’s a work in progress, after all, and the builders often disagree on what goes where and what happens next.
An old proverb (probably German) tells us, “God gives us everything we need, but he doesn’t throw it into the nest.”
That one’s been around a long time. Another truth. It’s all out there, but you have to notice it. Then you have to get up and go get it.
I find that I’m leery of the idea that I’m a magnet à la that Law-of-Attraction thing. I keep seeing images of stuff flying through the air and hitting me upside the head. Ouch!
MY OWN THOUGHTS
My own thought is that abundance-thinking is just a part of your Living Life toolbox.
What the abundance-thinking mindset helps with is figuring out a way to go for it which does not cause a lot of collateral damage that comes back to bite you or that haunts you until the end of your days.
This, I think, is a very good thing.
Maybe the positivity thing is like vitamins and minerals. You need a minimum daily dose of the things for your body’s optimal performance and you can take supplement pills to make sure you get them all, but you do have to stay aware that even stuff that’s good for you can kill you if you overdo it.
THE ANTIDOTE TO THE PARADOX
Perhaps the only antidote to this paradox is developing receptivity and looking at the appropriateness of any given action.
“Receptivity” is all about noticing. You see and accept what’s in front of you.
“Appropriateness” is doing just enough to move something in a certain direction and nothing more.
It’s like an aikido of the mind. The whole point in aikido is to notice the direction your partner-in-play is making and to help them go in that direction (perhaps more definitely than they want) and, thus, to move them out of your own way.
Then you’re free to go do what you want to do.
ALWAYS MORE QUESTIONS
Here are some questions to consider before you go off loaded for bear or walk through an outlaw town as the guy or gal without a gun:
Is the action you’re planning to take an appropriate response to whatever circumstance you are facing?
Are you receptive to the world around you? Are there conditions or factors in a situation that could have an impact on what you are trying to do? What can you do about them?
Are you noticing things that are wonky in another person’s walk? What can you do to mitigate the effects of that?
Are you noticing things that you are doing that just don’t work? Can you do something different that might work better?
One of my favorite quotes is from poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
That last may be the biggest test to run on any action before you take it: How will it make other people feel? Are you good with that?