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Category: Life Notes

values, mindsets, finding your own meaning and mana

SEE THE WHOLE GLASS (AND USE IT)

SEE THE WHOLE GLASS (AND USE IT)

We know the cliché – the glass with the water and the accompanying question delivered by some snot of a snippet:  Is the glass half-full or is it half-empty?

We think we know what the guys in the white coats say about choosing one thing over the other means too.

Over and over we’ve been told that if you say the glass is half-full, then you are probably an optimist.  If you say the glass is half-empty, then you’re a pessimist.

subjektiv
“Subjektiv” by Jan via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
If you don’t care, it is implied, then probably you’re a loser.

My own favorite take on the thing is a joke:

While the optimist and the pessimist were arguing about the glass, the opportunist grabbed it and drank the water.

The Light of My Life remembers one time he found a tiny bright blue bird egg that he had never seen before (or since).

When he showed his find to his grandson Charlie, the little boy immediately grabbed the thing and popped it in his mouth.  He thought it was a candy Easter Egg.

To Charlie’s dismay, the thing turned out to be a rotten old bird egg.  YUCK!

They never did find out what kind of bird laid the egg.  (Hawaii doesn’t have robins.)

It seems that opportunists don’t fare too well either sometimes.

PESSIMISM AND OPTIMISM ARE NOT WORLD-VIEWS

I don’t know how many kazillion words have been written about the joys of being an optimist as opposed to the downer of being a pessimist.

Optimism is touted as the cure for the blues and life-induced funk and a panacea for a hap-hap-happy life.  Pessimism gets a lot less good press.

We get the impression that we can actually choose one over the other and use it exclusively to hammer out our own best way of being.

If only we could repress our pessimistic tendencies and enhance the optimistic ones, then we could all be happy campers, it’s said.

Alternatively, if we could tone down our namby-pamby, airy-fairy optimistic tendencies then we could kill it as bad-ass warrior types and win the world.

The thing of it is, every human alive is a mixture of optimism and pessimism.  We really are not either-or.  We are both.

in-flames
“In Flames” by Bart Hiddink via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Optimism or pessimism is an attitude and a leaning towards one way or another of thinking or feeling.

At most, optimism and pessimism are persistent human character traits that may be at least partly determined by the DNA we inherited from our long-ago caveman ancestors.

Both engender survival strategies that work, but they are somewhat less than a real, complete world-view.

Our ancestors who excelled in either of them were likely to survive Life’s vicissitudes, prosper, and procreate.  Optimism and pessimism both helped the long-ago barbarians who lived long enough to become our ancestors.

Think about it.

In order to survive the fangs and claws of the monsters in the environs as well as the pitfalls and harshness of ordinary savage living, you really needed to tap the wariness and alertness pessimism engenders.

The best warriors and strategists are powerful pessimists.  It’s how they figure out what and who to fight against.  It’s how they determine the best tactics to use when trying to re-order the world.

In order to get all the babes and the boy-toys and to earn the goodwill of your neighbors as well as have the wherewithal to go exploring into the unknown, optimism is surely a good thing to have in your mana (personal power) toolbox too.

SO SAYETH THE GOOD DOCTOR

The late Paul Pearsall was an internationally recognized neuropsychologist, a popular speaker and the author of more than 15 books.

In 2005, while he was an adjunct clinical professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a member of the board of the Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative Health Care, he wrote THE LAST SELF-HELP BOOK YOU’LL EVER NEED:  Repress Your Anger, Think Negatively, Be a Good Blamer and Throttle Your Inner Child

In it, he takes on the pop-psychology industry and points out the fallacies inherent in their “scientism” – taking the research results of real scientists and molding and massaging the for-real findings to suit whatever latest flavor of living these “experts” are touting as well as throwing in a whole bunch of “everybody-knows” in there.

Pearsall advises taking it all in with at least a grain of salt.

worth-a-grain-of-salt
“worth a grain of salt” by William Olson via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
In the book, Pearsall urges his readers to continue to explore the always-fascinating questions about why we humans do what we do.  (He isn’t opposed to us finding out what makes us tick).

But, he also advises that we step back from the blather and think for our own selves and try to determine what is real and true and right for us.

It’s a cool book.

About optimism and pessimism, Pearsall recommends learning to use both styles of thinking to navigate through the world.

In other words, the guy is telling us to take a look at the whole glass and use the durned thing to quench our thirst.  Fill it up, drink it down…whatever.

He also recommends that you stop beating yourself up because you are not really bent the way the current guru of righteous living says you should be.

The whole reason he wrote the book, Pearsall says, is because so much of the stress of modern living that he had seen seems to arise from a person fighting against his or her own nature and trying to be something they are not.

He starts the introduction to the book with a quote from Ben Wyld, “Life used to be so simple before we all started reading about how to live it.”

Pearsall goes through many of the knee-jerk truisms that self-help “experts” propose about Life and Living Right and deconstructs them one by one.

His advice, always, is to work on figuring out what you think your own self.

the-thinker
“The Thinker” by Iulian Ursu via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

TWO FUNDAMENTAL WORLD VIEWS, ACCORDING TO A MYSTIC

Poet, philosopher and self-confessed mystic Mark Nepo talks about two fundamental world-views in his 2005 book, THE EXQUISITE RISK:  Daring to Live an Authentic Life. 

He says there are only two.  Either one emphasizes the connectedness of all life, or one accepts disconnectedness and isolation as our human fate.

According to Nepo, before the 20th century, all us humans pretty much agreed that everything is related to everything else, that all the parts are connected to each other as well as to the whole and that life is “empowered by actualizing this relatedness.”

a-river-runs
“a river runs” by Sam Shiue via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
(Yeah, he really does write like that, but, hey, he’s a poet.  It’s allowed.)

Most of the old wise guys offered basic variations on that same theme, that we humans are a part of something way, way bigger than our own little selves.

But, then, Nepo says, out of the rubble of a world torn apart by the devastation of two world wars, an alternative world-view rose up in the West that became the foundation of our post-modern sense of disconnectedness and isolation.

This way of thinking was dubbed “existentialism.”

According to its proponents, nothing is connected to anything.  We are all isolated bits bumping around in the meaninglessness of it all and the fact of our existence is all there is.

In other words, we humans live a hard-scrabble life and then we die.

The only meaning that can be found or generated, according to this world-view, is in the moment we are about to enter and in what we want and what we care about and what we do and how we can use the all of everything to make things go our own way.

He says, “…the postwar world dressed itself in unbridled technology and existentialism took a powerful hold on the profit-driven imagination of Westerners.

And he goes on with that grim scenario.

separation
“Separation” by West Peck via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Nepo does confess that his bias as a mystic and a poet is towards believing in “the sea of everything over the sea of nothing” – in connectedness over isolation.

And Nepo defines a mystic as “anyone who believes that there is something larger than themselves.

I, too, am going to plunk my one vote down for connection.

(Otherwise, I find, the world turns into such a cold and lonely place and you get to feeling there’s no point to any of it.)

What do you think?

forever-outlook
“Forever Outlook” by Kirt Edblom via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

HAWAIIAN-STYLE CATEGORIES OF THOUGHT (ACCORDING TO ME)

I am really proud of myself.

I am pretty sure that I finally figured out an ancient Hawaiian way of categorizing the thoughts we humans think.  (The thing has puzzled me all of my life and I finally got it to make sense.)

Hawaiians believe our thoughts arise from three different sources – our po’o (head), our pu’uwai (heart), and our na’au (gut).

Maybe I’m wrong, but the way I figure it is this:

  • Po’o thoughts are our left-brained, pragmatic and rational everyday thoughts and strategy-planning and all that.

It’s about stopping by the store on the way home from work to grab some milk and about figuring out how to launch a new product and stuff like that.

  • Pu’uwai thoughts are about connection – to other people, to the world and to the Divine.

It’s about things like showing respect and taking care of nurturing other people and the world and ourselves and all that stuff…the touchy-feely jazz.

  • Na’au thoughts are the instinctual, survival moves that we do on auto-pilot.

It’s doing the body- and mind-moves that allow us to get away and stay away from danger as best as we can.

It’s about avoiding using the face-block as a default defense move.

I say we need to use all of the different ways of thinking humans have developed to navigate through the world.

Each one has its place and its time, and we need to learn how to work effectively with all of them so we can get to wherever we want to go and arrive there more or less intact.

ride-the-light
“Ride the Light” by Flávio via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Here’s a poem….


THOUGHTS ON DITTY-BOPPING

I get it.

Really.

 

Ditty-bopping along

In a Prozac state-of-mind

Feels GOOD.

Only problem is:

It just does not

Feel Right….

 

The whole deal

About blissing out,

Swanning around,

Laying down

The sweetness and light

Like some hippy-dip

Nutella fairy,

Tripping through the

Corn-pone flowers and all,

Ignoring all the for-real shadows

Is…lovely.

 

It sure doesn’t do

A whole heck of a lot of good

For the truckloads of dead babies

Rolling through the

Jungles and mean streets

Of our neighborhood, does it?

 

I don’t know…

 

Don’t know what anybody

Can do for our cousins

Living in the suburbs of hell.

Don’t know how to turn

The dark tide

Before its time.

Don’t know how to mend

Even one broken heart.

 

There’s a lot I don’t know.

 

I do know

Darkness retreats

Every single time

You fire up just one skinny candle.

 

THAT I can do.

By Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit:  “In the windmills of your mind,” by Stavros Markopoulous 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 let me know your thoughts.

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PRESS PAUSE AND GO FOR CLARITY

PRESS PAUSE AND GO FOR CLARITY

For more than 20 years now, I’ve beaten my head against the concept of wu-wei, an esoteric bit of a mind-boggle that underlies a lot of the Taoist way of walking.

What to say about wu-wei?  Even trying to describe it makes the people doing the explaining dizzy.

Here’s a You-Tube video featuring British philosopher Alan Watts talking about wu-wei.  It’s one of my favorites.

It was published by AMP3083 in 2017.  The original recording this is taken from is called “Ecological Awareness.”

The guys who run on logic and straightforward thought patterns just dismiss the whole thing as an airy-fairy bit of nonsense.  Martial artists love the stuff and get all mystical-magical about it.

The simplest description tells us that wu-wei is the way of “doing nothing and everything gets done.”

Huh?

(Yeah, I know.  Weird, right?)

FIGHT OR FLIGHT…AND THEN THERE’S FREEZE

After all these years, I’ve finally figured out something.

Mostly we know about the “Fight or Flight” body-reactions we get when something happens to us unexpectedly.

BOOM!  Something happens, and you either put up your fists and snarl, ready to duke it out, or else you run like hell, screaming your head off.

boom
“Boom!” by Thomas Hawk via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
You can get lots of information and opinions and so on about those Fight or Flight body-reactions. Lots of studies have been done on those reactions and we are the beneficiaries of them all.

There is a third body-reaction that isn’t talked about so much except by guys who are into studying anxiety:  Like deer in the headlights or bunny rabbits or prairie fowl shivering in the grass as a hawk cruises overhead, we freeze in total panic-attack mode at the threat of danger.

nothing-escapes-this-hawk
“Those eyes are so intense nothing escapes this hawk” by Steve Baker via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
All kinds of studies have been done by the guys in white lab coats about the Freeze as well, but they aren’t as widely known.

Wu-wei, I think, is a lot about that third body-reaction.  It’s part of an ancient theory about the patterns and movements of the flow of energy in the world and how that all works.

After mapping out these patterns and movements and using the I Ching as a repository for their knowledge, Taoist wise guys developed strategies and game plans about how people could work with these patterns of flow to create the world they wanted to live in.

The origins of the theories of wu-wei are lost in the mists of time.

And, it seems to me, the disciplines and practices that developed around it are all about how we can use the Freeze to help us survive whatever has scared us so badly that we cannot think or move or do anything except experience that panic.

We humans do naturally freeze.  The wise guys tell us we can use the Freeze once the panic dies down (and if we’re not dead or maimed severely) to suss out what the heck is going on so we can go do something about it.

Since the wise guys who studied the paradoxes involved in wu-wei and worked on developing the (still-evolving) disciplines were all way gone into the Mystic, they tended to go hog-wild with the poetry of it all and leave us regular folks sitting on the side of the road, confused as all get-out about it all.

(They can’t help that, those wise guys.  When stars get in your eyes, I think, you just naturally lose the ordinary language that regular people use or something like that.)

SO, HERE’S THE DEAL….

Humans are naturally hardwired to handle crisis.

Often we act too quickly as a way of avoiding the crisis or else we distract ourselves from it.  Either way we mostly get smashed.

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“What Would Dorothy Do?” by Rich via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The alternative, according to the wise guys, is to stop and do nothing until we achieve clarity.  Once the panic dies down, we can think clearly enough to figure out what to do next (if we haven’t gotten killed off by whatever caused us to freeze.)

Rabbi David Wolpe, author of MAKING LOSS MATTER:  Creating Meaning in Difficult Times, points out, “The gift in pausing is to allow the wave of shock to pass before you are forced to react to the world….The pause allows you to recover yourself enough to figure out the process of integrating whatever the result of the shock is in your life.

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“All I wanted to be when I grew up was yours,” by Jessica Kennedy via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Humans love action.  We are probably addicted to it.

Mostly us humans think when we are doing something – even if it is random, unfocused and uninspired doing – we are being “productive.”

Often we are doing a lot, but nothing much gets done.  We run around like chickens without heads, bumping into things and flopping down futilely.  Not good.

detail-oriented-busywork
“we gals are detail oriented in our busywork” by bptakoma via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Soren Gordhamer who wrote WISDOM 2.0:  Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected, says, “Until we can be at peace with nothing happening, in a strange way nothing really can happen since our actions will be an avoidance of non-doing.

Um, yeah.  Even the smartypants guys get poetic around wu-wei.

In other words, rather than splashing around in giant, boggy mud puddles, stirring up the muck all around us, we just have to not-move and not-do, it says here.

We have to forego setting off even more silty muddiness and adding to all the gunk that’s swirling around in the chaotic confusion of it all.

We just have to stop and let the mud settle down so we can see what the heck is going on under our feet.

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“Hana red mud green trees” by Brandy Saturley via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Once we can see that there is not some big old hole right in front of us that we are going to fall down into or some big beast waiting to chomp us, we can figure out where to put our feet and maybe get out of that stupid mud puddle.

What we are trying to do, really, is “create conditions that invite opportunities for nothing to occur.”

The problem is, as Gordhamer points out, “The more out of touch and uncomfortable we are with our inner life, the more difficult stopping becomes.

He resurrects that old 1970s hippie bumper sticker, “Don’t just do something, sit there.

By just sitting there — waiting, watching and listening to whatever urgent possible catastrophe is unfolding all around – you make room for not-doing and you stop yourself from just mindlessly doing, doing, doing and getting more and more tangled up.

Maybe you’ll find some fellow “soul-mates” to whom you can talk.

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“Birds: A Tragedy” by Shannon Kokoska via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Memories of remarkable people who’ve wandered through your life, echoes of old lessons learned from them and all that other stuff in your mind can help you wait for the panic attack to subside.

By sitting still and not doing anything hasty, you also give yourself enough time to figure out the right responses and allow the best answers to show themselves.

Once you’ve got those answers in your grasp, then you can move to go do something that gives you the chance to get outa there!

And, mostly, whatever you do will work better than if you just dive in head-first without checking whether the swimming pool has water in it.

STOPPING 101

There are all kinds of ways to stop yourself from over- or under-reacting to the assorted situations that come up in your life unexpectedly.

Here’s one that was developed by Elisha Goldstein, a licensed psychologist who has written a number of books and who teaches clinically proven mindfulness-based programs on his own and through InsightLA.

Goldstein introduced it in his book, THE NOW EFFECT:  How A Mindful Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life.

stop-sign
“Stop Sign” by thecrazyfilmgirl via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
  • S = Stop what you are doing.

  • T = Take a breath. Make it slow and purposeful.

  • O = Observe what is happening around you and acknowledge how you feel right now.

  • P = Proceed after asking yourself, “What’s the most important thing right now that I need to pay attention to?”

Once you’ve answered that P question, you’ll at least have a direction you can go.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Goldstein’s S.T.O.P. strategy is a lot like what the wise guys tell you to do.  The wise guys have more poetic verbiage and way more interesting practices to try, but basically it’s the same stuff.

Here’s what I tell myself to do about it all so that it kind of makes sense for me:

What you have to do is gather in all the nebulous clouds of panicky thoughts about the possibly catastrophic future as well as the feelings you’ve generated about what has happened in the past – both about the most recent incident and about similar incidents that you’ve already worked your way through (or not).

You can reel in all the thoughts and feelings back into yourself and put yourself back into your own body in this present moment right now.

You can then give yourself a state-of-the-body report:

“Okay.  So this happened and this is how my body is feeling right now.  My neck is stiff.  I’ve got a dull pain in my lower back.  My stomach’s upset and I feel like throwing up.  Fine.”

“Okay.  These are my emotions:  I am feeling sad/mad/bad/scared…or whatever.  Fine.”

“Am I dead?  No.  Am I maimed?  No.  Fine.”

(You do this to make yourself solid again and concentrate the you-ness of you back into your body.)

Then you can give yourself a state-of-your-immediate-world report:

“Are the bad guys at the door right this minute?  No.  Has the someday-maybe catastrophe actually happened?  No.  Fine.”

“Are most of the good things in my life still there?  Yes.  Will the sun come up tomorrow?  Yes, probably.  Fine.”

After that, you can start to look at the situation at hand and begin to assess what you can do as damage control or how you can move towards resolving whatever the difficulty is.

You have made yourself ready to go into deep-thinking and maybe if you play around in there for a while you will be able to come to some insights about what your next move will be.

From there you might decide to fight or run or just get on with your day, ignoring the glitch that will probably self-correct without help from you.

And that’s it.

way-of-peace-and-solitude
“Way of Peace and Solitude” by Hartwig HKD via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


PANIC ATTACK

Okay…here I am again,

Trying to suss out why

This latest scheme of mine

Just sits there like a lump

No matter HOW much energy

I am putting into it.

 

It feels like there’s quicksand

All around me,

Waiting to suck me down, down, down…

Glub, glub, glub.

ARGH!

 

I’m supposed to let go now.

I’m supposed to stop struggling.

I’m supposed to just stop.

Okay.

I can do that.

Sure I can.

 

So, why doesn’t THAT feel like

A really good thing to do?

Here I am on this stupid tuft

of supposedly solid ground.

There’s mist blowing all around.

I cannot see ANYTHING!

 

I could use a rescue here, guys.

Is anybody out there?

EEEP! 

Are those EYES staring at me,

All red and glowing?

Oh, wow!  Oh, gee!  Oh, my!  Oh, me!

 

Ummm….

Wait a minute.

 

I just remembered something.

I am a Dragon.

Dragons have wings.

 

What am I doing standing here

Having a panic attack?

 

Get ON with it, Dumbo!

You can FLY, remember?

created by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo Credit: “portal” by Alice Popkorn 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.

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HOW TO LIVE WISDOM

HOW TO LIVE WISDOM

In 2011, a video of a kid speechifying after learning to ride a bike went viral.  His dad “interviewed” him after his accomplishment, asking him whether he had any “words of wisdom” for all the other kids who wanted to ride a bike.

Thumbs up everybody…for rock ‘n roll!” à la the rock group KTN (Kill the Noise) the little boy says, and the world laughed.

The video above is the “Original,” according to the YouTube posting.  Copies and parodies proliferated for a while.

I thought on all the sometimes-marvelous, oftentimes moving sermons and speeches and lectures and blogs and videos and books and courses and such put out by assorted and varied people.

It seems to me that if you know how to play with words, work your voice, and move your body with conviction and sincerity radiating out of your every pore, it’s not that hard to come up with stuff that at least gets people on their feet and cheering, rarin’ to go off and conquer the world.

There are even courses that will teach you how to induce that effect on other people, and on yourself, I suppose.

The problem is the word-induced enthusiasms and zeal sort of fade away when those people in the audience go back to their ordinary, regular lives.

The fervor and the fire dies down, drowning in the wake of the unending same-old.  The audience members come down off the high and it all turns to meh again.

Wisdom words seem to have a short shelf life.

The viral video made us laugh at ourselves because we know that space, all of us.

IF YOU REALLY WANT TO INSPIRE “THE MASSES”

Master Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson once said, “What is respected by the masses is action; you can inspire someone for a day with your words, but you can inspire someone for a lifetime by what you do.”

And that’s a truth.  Thompson lives it.

He is famed as the first Native Hawaiian in 600 years to practice the ancient Hawaiian art of navigation on long distance ocean voyages using only the stars, the wind and the waves, the flight of birds and the power of focused intent.

It has been his life-work to guide the Hōkūle’a, (“Star of Gladness” or Arcturus), a modern-day iteration of the double-hulled sailing canoes used by the ancients to sail across the Paciific.

Nainoa has also helped to further the work of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a nonprofit research and education organization that grew out of the effort to build the canoe and to sail her.

[For more information about the Polynesian Voyaging Society, click on the button below.]

click-here

The society has developed many ways to explore the deeper meanings of voyaging and wayfinding and they continue to reconnect the island peoples of Oceania with the old ways, with each other, and with the world.

In their growing, they’ve helped to revitalize a number of cultural practices that hold great meaning and mana for the ones who live it.

These practices include art, language, music, dance, ways of thinking and ways of cooperation that are a counter to the homogenizing and narrowing effects of our post-modern dependence on machines and straight-line thinking.

OF COURSE THERE IS A BOOK….

There’s a book, HAWAIKI RISING:  Hōkūle’a, Nainoa Thompson and the Hawaiian Resistance by Sam Low, a photographer and film-maker who documented the origin tale as it happened.

The book tells the story of the vessel’s making and her first voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976.  It captures the images of the people who made her and sailed her.

The saga is a remarkable tale of high adventure and great derring-do, a chronicle of the beginnings of one of the sparks that ignited the rebirth of a culture and a people that was languishing in defeat and despair.

(The author also made an award-winning film, “The Navigators – Pathfinders of the Pacific”.)

In 1978, the Hōkūle’a embarked from Oahu’s Magic Island, once again headed toward Tahiti on another cultural expedition. This time the dream was to have a Hawaiian navigate the canoe on the trip to Tahiti.

The canoe capsized in treacherous seas outside the Hawaiian islands and the crew spent the night adrift.

Eddie Aikau, an internationally acclaimed surfer and waterman, who was a member of the crew, set off on his surfboard to find help.  He was never seen again.

The crew was rescued, but the loss of Eddie which was compounded by the departure of their teacher, master navigator Mau Piailug, left the leadership of the voyaging group in disarray.

(Mau had returned to his home, disgusted at the contentious infighting and lack of consensus among the Hawaiians, before the trip began.)

Nainoa’s father and other leaders in the Hawaiian community helped the young people work through their disheartenment.

The old guys, who were experienced group leaders, told the younger ones that they had not “earned” the trip.  They had not learned enough of what they needed to know to make the run.

Any great endeavor requires extraordinary preparation and forethought and a great deal of hard work.  Until you’ve done the work and developed the backlog of skills that you need to deal with the inevitable emergencies, you are likely to meet with failure.

The elders spoke from experience gained over lifetimes of trying and failing and trying again.

With the sharing of their life-knowledge they helped to foster the understanding that there could be a deeper purpose for the voyaging than just playing around and having a good time on the open sea.

Thompson went to Micronesia to bring Mau back.

strings-of-life
“Strings of Life” (banyan tree roots) by Paul Oka via Flickr. [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The group learned.  Thompson learned.  They earned that trip to Tahiti and then planned and worked and did others.

They continued to venture out on voyages throughout the Pacific, to build their community, and to build canoes.

They kept extending the circle of connection outward.

AN ICON RIDING THE WAVES THROUGH TIME

Hōkūle’a, which was designed by artist and historian Herb Kawainui Kane, has become a symbol of the ancient indigenous arts of wayfinding and sailing off into the unknown and for the power of human connection and cooperation.

hokulea
Hōkūle’a” by Steve Judd [CC BY-NC-ND 2]
Other canoes have since been built, but she was the start.

Her greatest voyage was a three-year circumnavigation of the earth that began in March, 2014.  Hōkūle’a docked at 150 ports, stopping in 23 countries including Tahiti, Brazil, South Africa and Cuba and came home in June, 2017.

The world watched.  The children learned.

An interesting thing.

The around-the-world voyage began with many of the oldest surviving members of the past canoe crews who had a hand in sailing the vessel over the years of going out and then returning.

The crew that brought her home were from among the best and newest voyagers who had been trained by their elders.

And the procession continues, from the old ones to the young ones, from the past to the future.

THE POWER OF REMEMBERING YOUR TEACHERS

In 2015, as Hōkūle’a was making the world-encircling voyage, PBS Hawaii’s Leslie Wilcox presented an episode in their Long Story Short series that featured Wilcox’s interview of Nainoa Thompson.

The talk-story meanders through Thompson’s life and includes his childhood and his history with wayfaring and the cultural renaissance of the Hawaiian people, touching on turning points and highlights of his life-journey.

It elucidates Nainoa’s thoughts on how one develops into a worthy leader, the importance of building community, and the value of teachers and mentors in this process.

Even more importantly, Nainoa explains how he continues to live his life based on the “culture of values” into which he was born.

Here’s the YouTube video of the interview:

About halfway through the video, Thompson talks about the time when he was appointed by the Hawaii Probate Court, in the year 2000, to serve as one of the five trustees for the Bishop Estate, the largest private property owner in the state of Hawaii.

The trust, established by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s will, funds the Kamehameha Schools, a private school system in the state that the princess founded.

Nainoa’s appointment as a trustee came at a time when the trust was rocked by a scandal centered around gross mismanagement that jeopardized the future of the schools.

The previous board had been dismissed and Thompson was one of the replacement trustees, recommended by many community leaders.

Nainoa said that he felt absolutely inadequate for the job at hand. He was a fisherman, he said.

…I didn’t feel like I had the tools, I didn’t have the background. But you were asked; right? You were asked to do this.”

Maybe it’s a Hawaiian “thing” – one of those values that are a given:  When your community asks you to do something because they believe that you are the one who can help, then you have to respond to that trust and say yes.

Once you do that, you have obligated yourself to try to do the best you know how and to learn how to do better than you already know.

maui-love
“Maui Love” by Roozbeh Rokni via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Thompson tells how he countered his own self-doubt during that time by having his assistant hang in his office pictures of all of his life-teachers, those who he defined as “leaders that navigated” – the ones who had set the course for him for his whole life.  There were more than sixty pictures on the walls of the room.

The pictures included Pius Mau Piailug, one of the last traditional navigators from Micronesia; Thompson’s father Myron “Pinky” Thompson; NASA Space Shuttle astronaut and teacher Charles Lacy Veach; and waterman Eddie Aikau.

Whenever he faced uncertainty and overwhelming pressure to make some complex decision that involved balancing the often-conflicting needs of the people involved in an issue or situation, Nainoa would take a time-out and go sit in the room, surrounded by his teachers.

He would remember their stories, how they acted, how they thought, and the way they lived. He would ponder on what they would do in the situation he was facing.

Their ways of walking became the foundation for building and developing his own.

He says, “…that was the smartest thing I ever did, was to get all my teachers and my leaders in the room with me, and I could sit with them in counsel by myself.  Then, go back inside and deal with the rough decisions that you’re never, ever feeling that it’s one hundred percent the correct thing to do….”

At one point in the interview, he calls the fear of moving forward into ambiguity and uncertainty and taking the next action his “best friend.”

Thompson likens that fear to a door you don’t want to open– the one that requires you to be honest about all of your inadequacies and your-less-than-perfect self and to go on anyhow.

For that lesson, he credits his friend, Eddie Aikau, the big-wave surfer who always would go, who always wanted to take action.

Eddie said, Open the door.”

doorknob
“Doorknob” by SirSlasher via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Nainoa kept that thought with him as he continued to help to build a legacy for the ones who followed after him.

Once his term as a Bishop Estate trustee ended, Thompson went back to the sea.

The voyages and the wayfinding continues still.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As a writer and a poet, I am very much aware of the power (and the limitations) of words.

I do know that one elegant and beautiful way of walking through the world is more valuable than all the words and words and words that are meant to move the hearts around you.

It’s a good thing to remember when you are working towards some dream or other.  It really does not matter whether the walker becomes famous or remains obscure.  It’s glorious to succeed, but what are you succeeding at?

It seems to me that what is important is whether the way the walker walks helps to make the world a better place for everybody else.

It’s probably the most effective way to make friends and influence people as well.

tree-fern-crozier-unfurling
“Tree Fern Crozier Unfurling” by J Brew via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
 Here’s a poem….


WISDOM

Wisdom is simple, they tell me.

It’s just hard to walk easy like that.

Wisdom doesn’t make things or break things.

Wisdom just knows when to move,

When to be still.

And if you follow wisdom,

Maybe so will you.

 

Go…Stop…Start…Finish.

 

You make this turn, not that.

You dance a jig and spin a spin,

And, sometimes, that’s wisdom.

 

You talk, you shout,

You stare, you glare,

You take a dare,

You throw it all down

On one roll of the dice,

Or walk away, whistling.

And, sometimes, that’s wisdom.

 

You look and see what’s really there,

Join in the spectator crowd,

Or maybe hide your head in the sand,

Or you pull out some ‘scope –

Micro-,

Tele-,

Kaleido-,

And, sometimes, that’s wisdom.

 

You play or not,

You pass or plot

Or maybe you cheat at cards.

You take a stand,

Gather a band,

Or run like hell’s coming after.

And, sometimes, that’s wisdom.

 

The trick of it all is in knowing when

And you really can’t buy that

From some magic man.

 

Time’s what you need

And stepping real slow…

And, always, always, that is wisdom.

By Netta Kanoho

Header Picture credit:  “A Place In the Sun” by Chie Gondo in 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.

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PICK YOUR GAME (Another IPS)

PICK YOUR GAME (Another IPS)

ANOTHER IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  An understanding that Life is an opportunity to play.  [What you play (and how and why and when you move) often makes for a lot of difference in the results you get.]

Playing and helping other people play is my greatest “happy.”

I still think that one of the best things I ever did was to choose to look at all of the different aspects of Life-Its-Own-Self as play.

The possibilities inherent in that one excite me.   It sure does keep things cheerful in my world.

DEFINING THE GAME THAT IS LIFE

More than 15-some years ago, I stumbled across a book, FINITE AND INFINITE GAMES:  A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility by James P. Carse.

By that time the book was already old news.  It had been published in 1986.

It’s one of those books that you either love or you hate.

I mean, what do you do with a book that starts out with, “There are at least two kinds of games.  One could be called finite, the other, infinite.  A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.

It goes on from there, with concept after concept piled up on top of contradictory concept, simultaneously building up and out and in and down towards the final comment (number 101) on the last page of this slim book, “There is but one infinite game.”

The book contains no actionable steps, no five- or ten- or twelve-step programs…or any steps at all.

There are no exercises, no tips, no shortcut life-hacks.

All it has going for it are musings about life and the ways you can play in it by a guy who is a certified deep thinker who thinks big thoughts.

Carse was Professor of Religion at New York University when he wrote the book.  At the time, he had won the University’s “Great Teacher Award.”  He retired in 1996 after thirty years of teaching religion and as head of the department at the University.

Carse wrote other books as well — such scintillating things as DEATH AND EXISTENCE:  A Conceptual History of Human Mortality, BREAKFAST AT THE VICTORY:  The Mysticism of Ordinary Experience, and THE SILENCE OF GOD:  Meditations on Prayer and several others.  Wo!

(I never did feel the urge to explore the guy’s other books so I can’t tell you much about them.)

You’ll find a lot of great takeaways in Carse’s “Game” book (if you happen to be the sort who gets stuck in head-games and are way into thinking about life and meaning and mana).  It’s one of those books that makes you nod and go yes, yes, yes.

The book is a deep dive into the patterns and templates you can look for as you construct your own life-story.

kaleidoscope
“Kaleidoscope” by Nigel Wade via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
It is a reminder that, at any given time, you are intimately involved in a grand and timeless game and it is you who gets to decide whether you will play the thing as a Finite game or as part of the Infinite one.

THIS THING’S A PLAY-BOOK….

Carse describes the ways of playing used in each kind of game and he delineates the underlying patterns of them as well.  It is a bit like a play-book for Life, I think.

He points out the differences in the moves that players in either game – Finite or Infinite – make and what the results of that way of moving is likely to be.

Carse does tell some good stories along the way.

It is a fascinating study, especially if, like me, you are prone to trying to figure out which of the two basic games the other people wandering through your life have chosen to play.

The thing the book is really good at is helping you to focus on whether you are choosing to play in a Finite game or the Infinite game your own self, and it helps you figure out which moves you need to consider making.

strategy
“Strategy” by tylerhoff via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Through the years, Carse’s FINITE AND INFINITE GAMES has been the one constant book that sits on my writing desk among a number of changing titles that I have used to help to nudge my thinking in varied and sometimes helpful directions.

It has often been a starting point when I sit down to examine and consider yet another confusing tangled mess that I’ve somehow either wandered into or precipitated as a result of general dumbness.

The book has been most useful at helping me to suss out the options and directions that possess some modicum of grace from the many possible moves that I could take.

highways-crossing
“Highways Crossing” by Michael Theis via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
I confess that I do prefer to be an Infinite Game player.  I especially like the goal of continuing the play.

I am not particularly fond of “winning.”  (Winning usually means the game stops, and then I just have to go find some other game and start all over again.  Pfui!)

However, I also know that often it is necessary to play in the assorted Finite games that occur within the Infinite one because sometimes that’s the only way to get to a place where you can either continue to help keep the play going or expand it in all kinds of more interesting directions.

(For me, the bonus has always been getting some pretty good poems.)

NOT FOR EVERYBODY

I suppose I do also have to point out that if you are not interested in constructing your own life-story or if you are determined to win (or at least not lose) at whatever game you are playing then you will probably find the book a bore.

You’ve already plunked on playing some Finite game or other. You know your playing field.  You’ve got the rules down.  Your goal is to win the game and that is that.  (Good fortune go with you.  See ya!)

If you have not had practice contemplating paradoxes and playing around with metaphors and analogies and do not see the value of that sort of play, the book will not resonate with you.

It’ll join the pile of other woo-woo nonsense and romantic novels in the used book sale down the street.

karims-used-books
“Karim’s Used Books Nehru Place – Delhi” by Alan Morgan [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
If standing in uncertainty gives you the heebie-jeebies, then the thoughts and constructs contained in the book will seem like a major pile of high-browed hoo-hah.

If you have very strong ideas about how the world works that allow no room for wiggling, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to unlock the wonders the book contains.

Instead, you will declare that the assumptions you’ve adopted about the world you see are the only truths for you and you will confidently move forward along the paths they dictate.

And that can be a good thing too.

WHAT THE BOOK IS GOOD FOR

Carse’s book is a magnificent example of a thing that psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg, a noted researcher on the creative process, calls “Janusian thinking.”

The online Wiktionary says the phrase is an adjective that means, “having or relating to the ability to conceive and use multiple antithetical or opposite thoughts simultaneously.”

Rothenberg named it after the Roman god of thresholds and transitions, Janus.  Janus is typically depicted as a guy with two faces each facing in the opposite direction.

Not only does Janus have eyes in the back of his head, he’s got a whole other face.

janus
“Janus” by Mike Scoltock via Flickr [BY-NC 2.0]
Janusian thinking is what you do when you grab two or more contradictory ideas and hold them together in your mind until they stop fighting and start playing nice together.

What you try to do while the ideas are in there duking it out is to look at the captive concepts deeply enough so that you can come up with a third idea that will allow you to unlock the strengths and energies contained in those ideas and combine them in new and novel ways.

Talking about Janusian thinking is not easy, mostly because it is so foundational that it’s like talking about taking your first baby-steps.

baby-steps
“Baby Steps by Kevin Kratka via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
When you were a baby, you tried so very hard to get vertical and to totter forward.

Because you took those brave first steps and kept building up your skill at stepping, all kinds of other interesting things started happening as well.

All of a sudden you could move in all kinds of directions and get into all kinds of mischief.

Janusian thinking’s like those first baby-steps.  Your very first attempts at it are going to feel terribly awkward and clumsy.

Janusian thinking is “counter-intuitive.”  It goes against most people’s automatic gut reactions and often you may not find support for the thoughts you are thinking.

Janusian thinking is also another way of Un-Seeing.

Its function is to take you past your first thoughts and your default settings, your habitual patterns and your carefully built-up life routines.

If you succeed in getting past them, you will reach a space where you can construct new ways of doing and making things.

fluke-story
“Fluke Story (55 Chevy Bel Air Sports Coupe Frame Off Restoration)”

While you’re learning to use this particular style of thinking — until you get the hang of deconstructing your deeply held assumptions, looking at things from every angle as the battling ideas wrestle each other into the ground — the whole process is going to be very effortful and it’s likely to feel sl-o-o-w.

This means you are going to feel really, really stupid doing it.

Keep doing it and it does speed up.  You can reach a place where just sticking the contradictory ideas into the ring starts a whole string of new ideas popping up in your head.

fight
“Fight” by MAZA FIGHT JAPAN via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Once you get the hang of deconstructing old preconceptions and letting go of past judgments as well as nurturing a multiplicity of perspectives and learning how to transmute the knowledge you gain from them into new understandings, you’ll be able to choose more effective ways to address whatever situation you might encounter.

That’s just a fancy way of saying you’ll be able to come up with fresh ideas that just might work way better than anything you’ve ever tried has worked before.

(Hey!  You may even be hailed as an innovator-extraordinaire or the next Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet or one of those Nobel Prize winners that Atherton studied or some such thing.)

Janusian thinking is a component of several higher systems of thought-making that have been studied by assorted guys in white lab coats:

  • cognitive thinking – the process by which you transmute the knowledge you get from experience, thought and sensory input and turn it into understandings you can use to solve problems or make stuff
  • design thinking – creative problem-solving that focuses on the people for whom a new product is being created
  • synergistic thinking – a process that blends and balances logical linear thinking and associative non-linear thinking to boost creativity, innovation and Making

It could also be viewed as a simplistic description of the foundations for Taoist and Zen thought processes, for shamanistic or indigenous thought precepts, and for other high-wizard stuff.

Do this and eventually you get to play in Harry-Potter-World…or maybe you’ll get to be the Sorceror’s Apprentice.

the-hat
“the hat” by Camron Flanders via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

AND THEN THERE’S THE DOWNSIDE

The downside of all of the processes that start with Janusian thinking is that they can also multiply the variety, intensity and severity of the mistakes you can make…if they don’t paralyze you with the sheer volume of possibilities.

Sometimes when you are dancing on the edge, you make a mis-step and fall off.  Other times you stand on the edge of chaos and look into the Void and see the Void looking back at you.   (Yeep!)

Those who depend on their world staying concrete and linear and rational won’t go there.  (This thing is not for the faint-hearted nor for those who panic when they are stuck in ambiguity.)

It’s also not for those who are not seriously into examining their underlying motives and intentions.  (Intent gets really important when you play in Harry-Potter-World.)

Janusian thinking is the place where innovative geniuses go. It is also the place where the mad ones stay.

This is the place where the old maps say, “Here there be dragons.”

here-there-be-dragons
“Here there be dragons” by gomagoti via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
And if you choose to go there, it can, as well, make it really hard for you to talk to regular folks who have never left the living room couch.

Those who walk the trails into the Mystic and the serious psychedelic rangers go through initiation rites that require “dying to the world” in some way or other.  So do those whose intense creative, athletic or scientific bent takes them way into the middle of the Zone.

Janusian thinking is exactly like that.

All of the ones who choose to play the Infinite Game are often more than a little strange.

long-road
“La Longue Route” by marcovdz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
If you choose, instead, to become a poet or a storyteller, however, then it can all turn into play.

Good poets and storytellers have no problem talking to people.  It’s what they do.

Here’s a poem about a clash between someone playing a Finite game and another who’s more into the Infinite one….


WRONG MOVIE

There she goes, stomping along strong,

Being Godzilla attacking Tokyo.

(I guess I’ve been cast as Tokyo.)

Hmmm….

 

My job, it says here, is to stand there

Getting pounded and ground down

By big, stomping feet,

And pushed and shoved aside

By strong, powerful shoulders,

Pummeled by massive fists all the while.

I’m supposed to bend and break

Before the temper-tantrum wrath

Of riled-up Biggie.

Uh-huh….

 

My role, it says here, is to quake

As roars and growls fill the air.

I get to dash around in panic

Trying to find a place to hide

My own small self.

Right….

 

Oh, and, it says here,

There’s supposed to be

A lot of bleeding with street-pizza decorations

Strewn about in the general mayhem,

All those slash wounds from gy-normous claws

Having taken their toll.

O-ka-a-a-y…..

 

Gee, it says I’m supposed to weep in despair.

AWWW….

This won’t work.

Sorry, babe.

You need to call Central Casting again.

They sent you the wrong character actor, I think.

 

See, mostly I spend my time playing at being Wind.

I’m not sure this Godzilla movie

Has much use for gentle breezes and sweet, soft zephyrs.

I don’t think it can use snazzy updrafts and down-drafts

And slider-currents that support cunning wings.

There are no sails around here I can fill

To push the story forward.

And I’m pretty sure you won’t like

The hurricanes, the tornadoes and the cyclones

I’ve been developing.

 

Ah, well…

So it goes.

See ya….

By Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “House of the Sun” by David Fulmer via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

 

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HONORING IMPERMANENCE

HONORING IMPERMANENCE

One of the wisest thoughts I’ve ever encountered about impermanence is this one from English writer W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, THE RAZOR’S EDGE:

Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.” 

It reminds me of a Hawaiian aesthetic that holds that beauty is made more precious when we understand that it is ephemeral and will not last.

The world changes and changes and, if we are wise, we will drink in whatever beauty we find and enjoy it while it is still with us.

Delighting in the beauty that we encounter and not begrudging the limited time it can stay, is the only response that makes sense in this world of change, Hawaiians say.

The glory of rainbows must surely be affected by our understanding that they do not linger on and on.  They come.  They glow.  They fade away.

bridge
“Hawaiian Heimdall guards this bridge….” By James Huckaby via Flicker [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
One of the most beloved flowers used for making Hawaiian lei garlands is the pua kenikeni.

This tubular, five-petaled wonder has a strong, unique fragrance that lingers as (in one day’s time) a strand of the flowers slowly morphs from being an exquisite creamy whiteness to a vibrant golden orange before becoming a collection of brown straggling bits.

fagraea-berteroana-pua-kenikeni
“Fagraea berteroana – pua kenikeni” by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
The entrancing dance of lava flowing from the Big Island’s Kilauea volcano in this National Geographic Showcase Short Film produced by Lance Page and Wesley Young is hypnotically beautiful.  The YouTube video was published in 2015.

Always, the eruption of one of our volcanoes is a dramatic reminder that change happens and the display of destruction and creation can be very beautiful.

All of these likely Hawaiian examples of impermanence are taken from nature, but in Japan — another island kingdom across the Pacific — honoring the beauty of impermanence, process, and regeneration takes a more human turn.

ANOTHER PEOPLE’S WAY OF HONORING IMPERMANENCE

For 1300 years and more, the Japanese people in the city of Ise and the surrounding areas in the Mie prefecture have carried on a tradition of cyclical reconstruction and deconstruction.

Every 20 years or so the people connected to the place rebuild two of the holiest of their holy buildings as well as a number of other structures that comprise the Shinto Ise Jingū or Grand Shrine.

The rebuilders use Hinoki cypress wood — some from trees that are over 400 years old with trunks that are 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) in diameter — taken from ancient mountain forests that surround the area.

The cultivated trees are planted, maintained, earmarked and harvested on a cycle that spans hundreds of years in order to provide material for the great work.

This short 2019 YouTube video, “Ise Shrine/Ise Jingu,” which features a tour of the shrine complex was uploaded by travel vlogger Charlie Casia.  The serene beauty of the complex shines.

The two main shrines in the complex are the Gekū (Outer Shrine) and Naikū (Inner Shrine).  They are separated from each other by about four miles (6 kilometers) of forested land.  More than 120 smaller shrines and sanctuaries have sprung up around them as well.

The main shrines were originally built from wood harvested from the same forest that surrounds the latest iterations now.

These days, the local Hinoki wood is not as abundant as it once was so the shrine rebuilders have come to depend on other domestic producers who insure that only the very best wood is used for the work.

Logs are obtained from the mountains and floated down the rivers flowing past Ise.

Once the logs are harvested, they are put through a lengthy seasoning and drying process during which they spend several years in a pond before being dried and prepared as building material.

Timber for Gekū is landed from the Miya River while that for Naikū is landed from the Isuzu river.

No nails are used in the shrine construction.  The master artisans who erect these buildings use an ancient post-and-lintel technique with intricately cut and fitted joints that are designed and carved to fit together like puzzle pieces.

My favorite YouTube video about the miyadaiku carpenters of Japan is this one, published in 2019 by a Great Big Story.

It is titled, “In Japan, Repairing Buildings Without a Single Nail” and features Takahiro Matsumoto, a miyadaiku from Kamakura, Japan who assesses and repairs damaged temples in his own city.  It shows the kind of work these master craftsmen do.

A 100-meter long (longer than a football field) wooden bridge that spans the Isuzu River at the entrance of the Naikū shrine is rebuilt as well.

It’s actually a part of the training process.

The bridge is a journeyman project for the traditional miyadaiku temple builders — craftsmen and artisans who will, if they become masters, be entrusted with the next rebuilding of the main shrines.

ise-uji-bridge
“Ise, Uji Bridge” by Bernhard Scheid via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
The two shrines are each rebuilt on an empty building site that is adjacent to the current shrine.  Each rebuilding has always alternated between these side-by-side building sites.

(The next scheduled rebuilding of Naikū, which is deeply connected to the Japanese imperial family, is scheduled to occur in 2033 on the lower, northern site.)

Other shrines in the complex are also included in the rebuilding project.

While the people at Ise Jingū are not the only ones to practice this kind of rebuilding, these structures are the only ones that have been consistently rebuilt through the many centuries of their existence.

Besides the builders and carpenters involved in the building, scores of other craftspeople prepare thatch for the roofs using traditional techniques, cut the gold sheets that make certain of the ridge poles shimmer in the sun, weave the cloth used for hangings, and attend to the myriad details that go into making the newest shrine incarnation real.

kan-hatori-hatadono-jinja
“Weaving at Kan-hatori-hatadono-jinga” by N. yotarou via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]
All over the country other artisans create the sacred offerings and utensils that will be used in the renewed structures as well.

The local people in the surrounding areas are often deeply involved in the process, participating in various traditional events as well as a number of festivals that also include the millions of pilgrims and tourists who visit the Grand Shrine complex every year.

There’s a special festival when some of the logs and timber that will be used in the rebuilding are moved onto the site with help from many willing arms and backs.

okihiki
“Okihiki Festival, Ise” by D Kerr Ka-ru via Wikimedia Commons [public domain]
This video, “Ise Shrine,” was published in 2007 by Journeyman Pictures and offers a slice of the experience from one tourist vlogger.

The pebbles in the courtyard surrounding the newly built shrine are gathered, washed, then moved to the site and placed there by respectful human hands in a two-month process that involves the residents and visitors to the area.

(Afterwards the pebbles from the old structure are returned to the river.  One day they may be returned again to the site.)

The entire reconstruction process ideally takes about 17 years, with the initial years focused on project organization, general planning and fundraising, and the last eight years concentrated on the actual physical construction of the buildings.

Ritual and celebrations orchestrated by the Shinto priesthood is generously mixed in throughout the whole process and the people come to help and to participate in and watch the spectacle slowly unfold.

About six months after each new shrine building is completed and the sacred objects housed in the old shrine are ceremonially transferred to the new one, the old shrine is disassembled.

Some parts of the old shrine are kept for use in the next rebuilding effort.

The old major shrine’s two massive main pillars are repurposed to make the enormous torii gate that greets the multitudes of pilgrims and other visitors to the shrine complex.

ise-jingu-shrine-geku
“Ise Jingu Shrine (Gekū)” by tablexxnx via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Other parts of the old shrine are used to repair and maintain the smaller shrines that have sprung up around the two main shrines or are distributed around the country to other shrines that need repair.

And still other bits will become part of Ise amulets that are then sold throughout Japan to be placed on household altars – in Japan and almost certainly in other parts of the world as well.

The thing about the Ise Grand Shrine rebuilding is that it continues, rippling through the world in ever-widening circles.

MORE THAN JUST A HUGE CONSTRUCTION PROJECT

Each rebuild costs about half a billion US dollars (of which at least half are paid for by Japanese tax payers).

Every rebuild requires about 10,000 to 12,000 old cedar trees, many of them grown and harvested from areas outside Ise, and all of them expensive.

It is a costly proposition, keeping the culture alive.

However, it is worth noting that the Ise Grand Shrine rebuilding is an ages-old, ecologically sustainable practice that provides a structure and a framework for renewing a deep national commitment to an ancient spiritual and creative tradition.

This tradition brings together large numbers of like-minded individuals as well as those bound to the place through all the generations of families who have been a part of the ongoing project.

How much is an affirmation of Life-Its-Own-Self really worth?

NOT A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE

As I’ve said, the rebuilding of the Ise Grand Shrine is all about honoring impermanence, process and regeneration.

Maybe that’s one reason why these holiest of holy buildings in a country that is full of them –  buildings that have occupied their current sites for more than 1300 years – have not made it onto the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) began their famous list of sites that are judged to be “important to the common culture and heritage of humanity” in 1972.

These sites, they say, have cultural, historic, geographical or some other unique feature that make them worthy of protection from harm.

Some of these UNESCO sites are considered to be places where humans made great strides in advancing technology or intellectual and spiritual thinking.

The UNESCO list and the preservation program connected to it, it is said, is one of the most widely acknowledged international agreements.

The sites on the list are very popular with world travelers and tourists as well.

[Click the button below for the latest iteration of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list.]

click-here

There are currently 1,121 sites on the list.  Twenty-three of them are in Japan.

You will notice, however, that Ise Jingū, the Shinto “Grand Shrine” complex which is not only historically connected to the imperial family of Japan but is also a justly famous pilgrimage site, is not on the list.

pilgrims
“Pilgrims” by Bong Grit via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
It’s said that the Shinto Imbe priests who care for the Grand Shrine have resisted the inclusion of it on the UNESCO list.

The priests say they do this because the shrines are a part of an ongoing, living tradition that continues still.

That reminds me of one old Hawaiian friend who once pointed out, “Preservation is not the same as perpetuation.  Preservation is what you do to make pickles.  When you perpetuate something, you are helping to keep it alive.”

Through the centuries of practicing this form of reverencing life and caring for the sacred within the world, the living tradition evolves, passing through the hands, hearts and minds of many people, and yet it remains the same.

future-site-of-inner-sanctuary-of-ise
“Future site of inner sanctuary of Ise” by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


TIME

Time.

 

Time flows,

Eddying here,

Slowing there,

Rushing on and tripping

Over rocks and logs,

Half-seen in the depths

Of the river that

Flows on and winds

Past cities, towns and wild places,

Moving on and through

And in and out

Of the mind’s panoramic landscape,

Moving on and always

Moving forward, never back,

Carrying memory and recall

Into the future.

Time flows.

 

Time.

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit: “Ise” by Bong Grit via Flickr [CC By-NC-ND 2.0]

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PRACTICE THE GIFT YOU WANT TO BE

PRACTICE THE GIFT YOU WANT TO BE

All of us with inclinations for tinkering with our own heads and playing around with the structure of our lives seem to be prone to spending at least some time wandering around “looking for ourselves.”

It’s like somehow, in the press of living, we have lost our own “True Self” (a.k.a. “TS”) and like the person who’s misplaced her glasses, we wander around hoping to notice that TS sitting on a shelf or something.

eyeglasses
“Eyeglasses” by Riveredger via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
There are lots and lots of experts out there who are prepared to help us in our quest.  Everybody, it seems, has some sort of system or other that will help you find that TS you misplaced and left lying around somewhere.

THEORIES AND SYSTEMS AND ALL OF THAT

You could spend several lifetimes and many fortunes testing out all of the different theories and systems and whatnots.  (If you’re lucky, you might find the one you can actually live.)

If you do, you’ll be able to use it to shape yourself into whatever pretzel this person or that feels is an effective, useful, and productive mode of being or, just maybe, you might be able to use what you learn to design your very own mode of being that’s just right for you.

The thought does occur to me sometimes that it really is too bad that few of us have several lifetimes to spare and that most of us are still working on our first fortune.

It does seem, however, that looking for a better fit than the one that happens between our one-of-a-kind self and the just-like-everybody-else sort of life we humans tend to live is an aspiration that can lead to many new and interesting ways of getting to our own kind of happiness.

wheres-all-the-gold
“Where’s All the Gold?” by GollyGForce via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

HERE IS ANOTHER ONE

Sportswriter Daniel Coyle wrote an article for the New York Times “Play” magazine in 2007 that sparked his own explorations and wanderings into places around the world where talent, creativity and excellence are fostered exceptionally well.

You can read Coyle’s initial article, “How to Grow a Super-Athlete” by pressing this button:

click-here

For a couple of years, Coyle wandered around looking at assorted people, places and systems that consistently and reliably produced champions.  He likes calling these places where people’s supposedly innate talents are nurtured and helped to develop and grow “talent hotbeds.”

champion
“Champion” by Mateo Tarenghi via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
As he visited these places Coyle asked questions about how and why these people, places and systems work so well at fostering accelerated learning.  The answers intrigued him.

Then, because he is a writer, Daniel Coyle wrote a book in 2009, THE TALENT CODE: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else. 

The book was well-received.  There have been several iterations and expansions on it since then by the author.

And why not? It’s a fine example of “pop psychology” – useable, scientifically based, DIY stuff that can be applied to everyday living with good results.

The book is readable and the writing is clear and down-to-earth.  Coyle tells good stories.  And, according to him, the steps that are used in the process of enabling the rapid learning of effective skills well are simple and few.

Coyle even throws in a bit about how your brain works when it’s learning stuff and offers suggestions about how you can help it along.

This video, ‘How to Practice Effectively…For Just About Anything,” a TED-Ed short lesson by Annie Bosler and Don Greene published in 2017, pretty much covers and gives a short explanation about that part.

According to the guys who study such things, getting good at doing something is a lot about myelin building.  (Don’t know what that is?  Watch the video.)

DEEP PRACTICE

My own takeaways from this book were all connected to Coyle’s explanations and life-hacks that surround the concept of “Deep Practice.”

That chapter of the book, “The Three Rules of Deep Practice” is introduced by Samuel Beckett’s advice, “Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.”  (More than a few very successful companies have gotten a lot of mileage out of that bit of advice.)

Coyle’s three “rules” are as follows:

  • Rule One: Chunk it up.  Every learnable skill is made up of smaller bits – ways of doing things that work more effectively than other options for doing the same thing.  You can suss them out if you look at the processes involved.  (If you’re fortunate enough to have a smartypants mentor, it gets even easier.).   You can set yourself to learning how to do each part of the process as effectively as possible.  Then you put all the parts together.
  • Rule Two: Repeat it.  Repetition, as any athlete, performer and Maker will tell you, is the key to doing anything well.
  • Rule Three: Learn to feel it.  This one reminds me of what I learned about “embodying” knowledge from my kung fu si’fu (teacher).  It is the process of sinking down what you are learning – the how to move and the sequencing and timings of the moves and so on – into your bones.  When you do that, the moves eventually become automatic and a part of how you respond to the world.

loggerhead-turtles-mabibi
“Loggerhead Turtles – Mabibi” by Jeroen Looye via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Deep Practice, according to Coyle, is pretty straightforward and eminently do-able.  (The baby turtles in the illustration are role models to emulate as you work with it.)

NOW, THINK ON THIS:  WE ARE ALWAYS PRACTICING SOMETHING

As I was pondering on all this, I stumbled across an affecting TEDxTalk by Santa Barbara mindfulness coach and business consultant Dave Mochel who points to the fact that we are ALWAYS practicing something.

As he says, “practice is how we use our time and energy.”

This is a thought that tends to get ignored in all the how-to’s and tips and hack-notes about getting to a better life and realizing your greatest potential in the books on the self-improvement how-to shelves and blogs like this one.

The video featuring Mochel, “What Are You Practicing Now?,” was published in 2016 by TEDxPasadena Women.

In it Mochel presents a cogent explanation of Deep Practice and he details how consistently combining awareness with deliberate action (even if you’re not so good at it and keep making mistakes and do-overs) can lead to fulfillment, well-being, growth and connection.

At the end of the video, Mochel advises, “Be careful what you practice because you ARE going to get better at it.

Depending on what you’re practicing, this could be a very scary thought.

Mochel does know what he’s talking about.  He spent 25 years as a teacher of neuroscience, physics, human development and leadership in independent schools before becoming a mindfulness coach who works all over the world with individuals, teams and organizations to “develop and maintain healthy and powerful cultures,” it says here.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I do spend a lot of time reading and listening to enlightening information and encouraging words about human potential and creativity.   A lot of that stuff is certainly inspiring.

It does occur to me, however, that the topic is such a fascinating one that there are always going to be more and more thoughts generated about it by all kinds of motivational experts, life coaches, guys in white lab coats and storytellers.

All of these thoughts join all the other ones thought up by wise guys down through the ages.

The variations and techniques for developing and using our inherent and often dormant abilities and propensities will continue to proliferate like those mind-boggling fractal figures that spin out and spread out in ever-widening complexity.   (Oy!)

fractal-gift
“Gift” by Linda K via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Somewhere in all of that, there is likely to be something you can use your own self.

My own explorations into Deep Practice have presented me with a glimpse at whole other ways of thinking about human potential.  They lead me to ask some uncommonly intriguing questions, like:

What if it all really is not about the gifts you were “given” when you came into this world?

What if the Real is that YOU are the gift?

What if the human presence in this world is really about how each of us humans can set about building ourselves into the gifts to the world that we each want to be?

left-undone
“Left Undone” by GollyGForce via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Hmmm….

Here’s a poem:


HO’OKUPU (Gift)

 

I dance on the edge of a pit

For a goddess of fire and flame.

The heat of the sun on the stones

Sears through my bones,

And a passion of blood flows

More swiftly in my veins,

Pushed along by the sulfur-tinged

Breath that flows in and out of lungs

Seared by the stopped-time desolation.

 

Honored lady, my hands are empty.

I come with no gift for you

Except for this dance

By an ignorant body that is a legacy from ancestors

Who I can feel behind me, walking

To an age-old chant that

Reverberates, rings in my ears;

Except for this feeble brain

That tries to make sense of a different space and time,

Where magic and mana is paved over

And ringed with “No Trespassing” signs;

Except for this tired heart

That lives in exile, longing for a place lost in time.

 

There, now…

 

I can feel my heart opening wide

Pulsing there in surrender to

The echoes of the radiant chaos that is your beauty.

The pit yawns to my left.

To my right, a cave rises up out of the tortured stone,

Formed by turbulence and time,

It is filled with secret whispers that nudge

The edges of awareness,

Swirling through the molten rock that flows

Through the depths of my na’au like a river of liquid fire.

 

And, look, what is this?

 

Behind me, Dragon watches,

A smug twinkle in her eye.

I hope she is proud of me.

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Gift” by Houman Khosrozadeh via Flickr [CC BY-NC-2.0]

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PLAY A MEAN PINBALL (YES YOU CAN)

PLAY A MEAN PINBALL (YES YOU CAN)

For weeks now I’ve been hung up on the saga of the resurgence of Pinball — that American-made quintessential mix of skill, chance, and enticingly challenging distraction in a glassed-in box that swept up the world and wrapped it up in the epitome of American “cool” and then nearly got killed off by the advent and rise of the now-ubiquitous video game.

The pinball industry lay there gasping at the end of the 20th century.

The death watch began around the time that New York’s legendary Broadway Arcade closed in 1997.

By 1999 only one manufacturer of the games, Stern Pinball Machines, was left standing.

tilt-tilt
“Tilt Tilt” by Dice.com via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The naughty, “bad-boy” games that used to be “everywhere” during the boom times in the 1970s fell and then rose yet again to new highs in the early 1990’s before they were overshadowed by the huge tsunami of the video gaming onslaught.

The games, in their long history since the 19th century had already survived social and political censure and the “Pin-hibition” (Prohibition-style banning of the games due to their lack of moral rectitude and their wicked influence) in the 1930’s shortly before a World War effort in the following decade ate up the resources needed to produce the machines.

bumper
“bumper” by erin via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Pinball gaming weathered assorted cultural upheavals, and other vicissitudes quite handily before being blindsided by the popularity of their flashy electronic offspring.

In the last decade, however, Pinball has been staging yet another comeback, due to the efforts of aficionados, collectors, entrepreneurs, game designers and other creatives.

plunger
“Pinball in Ashbury Park, NJ – Plunger” by Bob Jagendorf via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
The following YouTube video, published in 2019 by WIRED magazine, “How Pinball Survived Video Games, the Mob and Politics,” features Michael Schiess, a pinball enthusiast who collects and repairs old machines and founded the Pacific Pinball Museum.  It chronicles his story.

There are many others like Schiess.

In 2009, during the Raindance Film Festival, a documentary film directed by Brett Sullivan and produced by Steam Motion and Sound, “Special When Lit:  A Pinball Documentary,” was released.

Click on the button below to experience the feature-length film.

click-here

(It’s available from the YouTube Movies channel.)

HERE’S A QUESTION:  WHY DOES PINBALL KEEP ON COMING BACK?

Many observers watching this scene unfolding say that the resuscitation and resurrection of Pinball is primarily nostalgia-driven.  Pinball machines call up recollections of the carefree, halcyon days of youth, they say.

Parents and grandparents want the youngsters in their lives to experience a part of the history they lived, and many of the themes and the music from the older people’s youth are part of the Pinball way-back-when vintage machines.

Some of the games are tied to important moments in the older people’s lives and become a part of the stories they tell.

back-to-the-80s
Back to the 80s” by Bill Dickinson via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Others say that the real-life visceral experiences of the games themselves and the pop-retro culture that has grown up around them make a big change from the only-ness and isolation engendered by the more severe forms of video gamer geeky-madness.

This is appealing to a new generation that never knew the joy of Pinball, they say.

Some of the present-day world-class tournament-grade pinball wizards talk about the “zen” of Pinball and the magic of the “zone” that they can reach as they focus down on the games for hours on end in tournament play.

They talk about how sometimes they can suss out how to synchronize their play action to the rhythm and tempo of the machine’s game, which very often changes every time they play.

tilt
“Tilt!” by adunt via Fickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Some of them move their bodies in a physical dance that connects them to the machine and to the whizzing ball.  It becomes an elegant ballet.

For these top-notch players, the game becomes a physical form of fast-moving mathematical calculations of trajectory and positioning and timing that are tied to the laws of physics and to dealing with the forces of gravity and entropy.

1000-points
“1000 Points” by Tom Good via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
It occurred to me that these players are reaching for what researcher-psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi calls “the state of flow.”

The players are playing with Chaos and there is a magic there, they say.  Perhaps, for them, this is a truth.

THE NEW GENERATION OF PINBALL GAMES KEEPS EVOLVING

The designers of the new pinball games just want to make the games “more fun” for the players and they bend all their creative efforts to produce that effect.

The best games, as legendary game designer Steve Ritchie says in the “Special When Lit” film, are “easy to learn, easy to play, and hard to win.”

Game designers spend a lot of time setting up the games in ways that challenge players to reach for the very edge of their competence levels.

The designers work on fine-tuning the frustration levels the machine can induce in the players.

Ritchie is a great believer in appealing to the senses.  He’ll use flashing lights, bold colors and distinctive sounds, and he’ll figure out multiple alternative paths and actions a ball can make to add to the experience.

He says it’s like the silver ball is having fun in its own little world and the player is helping it to do that.

pinball-wizard!
“Pinball Wizard!” by Don Heller via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
The very best games, Nevada game designer Joe Kaminkov says, are the ones that leave you “one shot away” – the ones that make you want to try again and again to make that silver ball dance your way.

The entrepreneurs who are riding the wave of the Pinball lifestyle are just glad to add yet another already-proven attraction to the arsenal of their ongoing entertainment and amusement enterprises.

pinball-wizard
Pinball Wizard” by Abby via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
In any case, à la Mark Twain, the rumors of the death of Pinball are “greatly exaggerated.”

MORE ON THE FLOW AND THE GUY WHO NOTICED IT

In his classic 1990 book, FLOW:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes how learning to notice, induce, and dance in what the scientist-philosopher called “the state of flow” can lead to developing oneself into a person who consciously experiences a total involvement and enjoyment of life no matter what the external circumstances.

Csikszentmihalyi actually coined the name “the state of flow” in 1975 when he was trying to describe the mindset of a person fully immersed, focused, and involved in the process of any activity.

These days we call this state “being in the zone” and it happens in any situation that requires concentration, problem-solving, and physical and mental performance.

flautist-in-the-zone
“Flautist in the zone” by Topher Martini via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The book neatly balances philosophy – ancient wisdoms as well as the musings of various deep thinkers down through the ages — and 20th-century science’s extensive research into so-called “positive psychology” which looks at human strengths such as optimism, creativity, intrinsic motivation and responsibility.

In his book, Csikszentmihalyi presents ideas that have been validated by scientific studies (as well as more esoteric wise-guy stuff).

You can learn to use these internal human strengths, he says, with conscious intent and purpose to meet and resolve various life-challenges.

He shows you how doing that is very likely going to affect your daily living and your own personal happiness.

Even now, FLOW (the book) continues to influence and inform researchers and regular people all over the world.  It has been translated into more than 20 languages.

The researcher with the impossible name, now 84 years old, made studying the concept of the flow state and how to use it to engineer life-long happiness his lifetime’s work.

He wrote many books and articles that explored more fully how one can manage one’s mind to flow with life gracefully, bringing the high-flying ideas down to earth for us ordinary sorts.

His major focus, it seems to me, has been figuring out how to live an ordinary, messy, complicated and complex modern life in an extraordinary way – one with meaning and mana in it.

He helps you construct your own flippers that help keep your silver ball in play.

flipper
“Flipper….” by Ian Eure via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

THE SELF THAT HAS SELF-CONTAINED GOALS

In his book, Csikszentmihalyi introduces a mindset that he calls the “autotelic self.”

He says developing this self is one of the benefits of consciously playing in the flow state.

A person who is never bored, seldom anxious, involved with what goes on, and in flow most of the time may be said to have an autotelic self.  The term literally means ‘a self that has self-contained goals’ and it reflects the idea that such an individual has relatively few goals that do not originate from within the self.”

He points out that for most people, the goals they have are shaped directly by biological needs or social conventions.  These goals originate outside the self.

The primary goals of people who have an autotelic self, on the other hand, arise out of their own evaluations and thoughts about real-life experiences they have undergone.

Autotelic people make up their own goals using the lessons they’ve learned from their own lives.

This is a self I find most attractive.  Being able to embody lessons learned from life and to actually use them to walk through the world better sounds pretty darned good to me.

extra-ball
“Extra ball” by Shawn Clover via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
People with an autotelic self are easy to recognize, Csikszentmihalyi says.

  • They know how to make choices without much fuss and a minimum of panic.
  • They know how to become deeply involved in whatever they are doing and work on developing skills that help them do the thing better.
  • They pay attention to what is happening as they work through whatever is in front of them and remain sensitive to feedback as well.
  • They learn to enjoy the Now they are in.
enjoyment
“enjoyment” by bryan via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

THE WIZARD’S WAY

You know, it seems to me that those pinball wizards may be onto something.

If, like Broadway Arcade owner Steve Epstein, you equate pinball with “a universe in a box that is a lot like life,” then you’d probably agree with him when he says, “You never know what you’re gonna get around the next corner, but you’ve gotta go and be involved in it.”

That, it seems to me, is a grand way to walk through life.

game-over
“Game Over” by Thomas Hawk via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


PINBALL DITTY-BOOM

Life is like a pinball game.

(It’s all just rock and roll)

And waiting for us, one and all,

Is the deepest darkness of the Hole.

 

None of us can win,

But we can wizard-out with style.

We’ll be heroes of the gath’ring crowd

Just for a little while.

 

Gravity’s the King, yeah,

And Entropy’s his Queen,

But in that time, that space,

We can be the best the world’s ever seen.

 

The numbers stack on up

As we keep that ball in play,

And the streaming lights blink on, blink off

As the startle-noises fade away.

 

The bumps, the grinds…no TILT allowed…

Our flashing hands do fly.

For us, it’s all about the Zone,

At “Game Over” we may curse, but we don’t cry.

 

‘Cause that plunger waits…a challenge:

There’s another run to make.

Just one more time we go, we go,

As our freedom-thirst we try to slake.

 

‘Cause this time’s done, but here’s another,

One more opportunity to take…

And this time we might make it

To the magic past the fake.

By Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Pinball” by Paolo Viscardi via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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OVERRIDE “STAIRCASE WIT”

OVERRIDE “STAIRCASE WIT”

We’ve all experienced it, that d-d-d-duh moment when somebody snarks at you or disses you big-time in front of the smirking crowd and your mind blanks out.

Half an hour later — or maybe, if it’s really bad, three days later (after gnawing over the mauling) — your inner Clever Dude or Dudette finally kicks in and hands you a totally brilliant, absolutely useless “I-should’ve-said” come-back thought.  ARGH!

It’s as if you’ve turned into a particularly dumb axolotl, an aquatic salamander like the one in this YouTube video, published by Wonder Ffly in 2017:

The brilliant orphan remark remains in your head, a reminder of a might-have-been.

And then there are the times when El Smart Mouth runs rampant, blurting out some bit of devastating dimwittedness that makes it past your lips before your brain engages.

A whole series of trauma-dramas ensues.  The result is hurt feelings all around and you feeling like a cake left out in the rain.  YIPES!

That smart-ass, much-regretted remark that you’d like to disown stays with you as well, always available for replay when you’re feeling low and want to get really disheartened by the dumbness of you.

learn-to-shut-your-mouth
“Learn to Shut Your Mouth” by Juli via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The funny thing about both of those social missteps is that they are the result of the same brain glitch.

I notice that you are more prone to experiencing the first if you are a quiet and slightly neurotic introvert.  The second is more likely if you tend to be an irrepressible extrovert.

If you’re an ambi-vert (sometimes intro- and sometimes extro-), you apparently get to experience both on a regular basis.

The other weird thing is that both of these types of conversationally induced regrets have the same name — “the spirit of the staircase” or “staircase wit” — in two different languages, French and German.

However, the French one refers to the first while the German one is a designation for the second type of remorseful kicking yourself in the head.

The credit for the naming of the first type of brain-freeze is said to belong to 18th-century philosopher and writer Denis Diderot.

At a fancy dinner party among a crew of glittering personalities, Diderot (an up-and-coming bright light who was apparently suffering from a touch of Imposter Syndrome and feeling a bit self-conscious and afraid of looking foolish) was challenged on some point or other.

He blanked out.  Everybody laughed.

Feeling humiliated, Diderot left the party soon afterwards.

On his way down the sweeping long staircase to the front door, he kept replaying the embarrassing moment.  Just as he reached the bottom of the stairs, he found the perfect retort.

petit-staircase
“petit staircase” by andy lapham via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Should he turn around, march back up those stairs and deliver his witty come-back?  Of course not.  It was too late.

In one of his published journals, Diderot wrote, “A sensitive man, such as myself, overwhelmed by the argument becomes confused and can only think clearly again [when he reaches] the bottom of the stairs.”

An (anonymous) reader of the journal coined the actual phrase, “l’esprit d’escalier,” the “spirit of the staircase.”

The German version of “staircase wit” is “treppenwitz”This one, however, describes the remorse that ensues when inappropriate words shoot out of your mouth before your mind is properly engaged or you do a body-move that’s taken wrong.

The German version is used to refer to an incident when you say or do something that, in retrospect, was a bad joke…a spontaneous lame blurt or mimed reaction that plummets like a lead balloon.

The aftermath of either one is not fun, no matter what you call it.

Here’s a cute YouTube video, ”Have You Ever Come Up With a Comeback Too Late?,” published in 2018 by The Real Daytime TV where the girls, Tamera Mowrey-Housley, Jeannie Mai, Loni Love and Adrienne Houghton, discuss both forms of regrettable mouth failures.

WHY THE O-M-G HAPPENS….

The guys in the white lab coats say the reason our brains sometimes either gets stuck in neutral or goes to sleep at the wheel is mostly because each of us actually have three interconnected brains in our heads.

These brains developed over time during our evolutionary history to handle distinctly different functions.  All of them are hard-wired together in a way that’s part of our body-survival promotion package.

brain
Brain” by AJ Cann via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The most primitive of our trio of brains is commonly called the “lizard brain.”  It’s responsible for monitoring and regulating our everyday body needs and it’s pretty automatic.  It is also the part of our brain that responds to threats mostly by freezing.

Our so-called “mammalian brain” is where our amygdalae, our emotion regulators, reside.

An amygdala is an almond-shaped cluster of neuron cells tucked deep inside the temporal lobe (the technical term for “mammalian brain”).  There’s one set in each brain hemisphere.

This very short YouTube video published in 2016 by Neuroscientifically Challenged gives a simplistic overview of the amygdala and some of its functions.

As the 50-cent tour video says, our amygdalae process and integrate our physical reactions to emotional stimuli — especially fear and anger as well as more positive emotions — and affect our emotional behaviors and motivations

The amygdala has been compared to a smoke detector.  It is best known for triggering assorted neurochemicals that help us mobilize our bodies in times of danger.  It has also been known to hijack your brain functions at the most inconvenient times.

Whenever situations start getting heavy, the lizard and the mammalian brains take over.  They are why the freeze/flight/fight responses happen.

Most of the time our executive-functioning “cortical brain” is in charge.  This brain is a relatively recent development for us humans.

Of all the brains we are carrying around, the cortical brain is the most complex.  It takes care of things like logic, language, telling time and playing with mind-constructs like strategies and tactics and stuff like that.

Because of the cortical brain, all of our multi-faceted and varied interactions and connections with other people and the rest of the world are possible.

However, whenever you feel threatened, that feeling sets off your amygdala, which freaks out.  Your body reacts immediately.

All of the “unnecessary” features and functions shut down.  Language, time-sense, critical thinking and social engagement skills don’t work so well any more.

Stressful situations tend to dump us out of our high-functioning cortical brain – the part that is most useful for assessing all of the variables of a situation – right into war-mode or rabbit-mode.

brainade
“Brainade!” by Emilio Garcia via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Your digestive system, peripheral vision, hearing, and every other non-essential organic function shuts down as your body prepares itself to either fight, flee, or freeze.

It doesn’t matter if the threat is not a physical one.  Any emotional turmoil can (and often does) trigger this reaction.

WHY ALL OF THIS MATTERS

The important thing about these findings, I think, is knowing that “staircase wit”, in all of its permutations, is something that is a built-in part of your physical self.

This means that you do actually have the ability to affect and, perhaps, change what happens naturally in your body.

It points to the possibility of training yourself to be less governed by the physical realities of your brain wiring in the same way that you can train your body’s muscles to be stronger, faster and more agile.

According to the smarty pants (as well as the ancient wise-guys and every communication expert who ever lived), it is entirely possible to rewire your brains and gain a more controlled approach in your stressful interactions with other people and better handle the vicissitudes of stressful head-games and avoid conversational regrets.

Just as there is an incredible variety of systems and methods to improve your muscles’ capabilities, there are mountains of books and courses and seminars and classes and workshops about how to rewire your brain and fine-tune your mental reflexes and such.

There are piles of yoga and meditation techniques.

You can repeat affirmations and do any number of spiritual practices of assorted varieties.

There are “improv” and other theatrical techniques and systems.

There are martial arts – both physical and mental.

It goes on and on.

One of the best compilations I’ve ever seen of tips and such for successfully constructing quick-witted comebacks is one I ran across in www.wikihow.com.

Click on this button for that:

click-here

Pick one.  They all do work.

There are, you will notice, a few caveats along with all the tips.

Be aware that how well any of these systems, strategies, techniques and hacks work for you depends on whether your personal brain hardwiring suits and supports the system you choose to implement.

The efficacy of a particular system also depends on the quality of your practice and of your intention.

Building new and improved neural pathways involves exactly the same kinds of processes as building big muscles.

And, just like building big muscles, it does take time and practice and perseverance and consistency and so on and so forth.

Brain neural pathways persist.  They take time to build and they take many, many repetitions to re-route.

bucharest
“Bucharest” by Andrei Rosca via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

CHOOSING YOUR ANTIDOTE

How you exorcise your “Spirit of the Staircase” and mitigate that pesky “Staircase Wit” does start with your intention.

You can choose to be the Come-back Kid – the clever one with the quick quip and the rollicking pyrotechnics on tap who is good at entertaining the masses.

No longer will you have to sit on the sidelines taking the slings and arrows thrown at you, mutely bleeding.  As the lively, agile Come-back Kid, you can dodge and duck and throw those slings and arrows right on back.

You could choose to be a Magus or Aristo guy or gal with the Teflon-coated power-sphere built up of personal presence and charisma that makes a shell around you and repels those rude-and-nasty barbs.  You can rise above it all.

Or you could just be your own, plain self and see where that one goes.

(Actually, that last one is probably the hardest one of all.  How many of us actually know who we really are?)

NOBODY CAN TELL YOU WHICH TO CHOOSE

A lot of the effectiveness of any of these systems and techniques depends, as well, on how good you are at reading a situation.

This YouTube video, “How to Stand Up For Yourself,” published in 2018 by intuitive counselor, author and psychotherapist Jodi Aman, points this out.

For me, the most important point Aman makes in this video is the one where you choose not to take whatever another person says or does personally.  This opens up a wider range of options for responding and leaves a lot of room for the Creative to move around in.

ONE MORE TAKE ON THE MATTER

My own personal favorite is this YouTube video, “Verbal Jiu-Jitsu,” which features Sifu Tim Tackett at the 2016 Combat Submission Wrestling Association World Conference, published in 2017 by Robert Burgee.

 

I do agree.  Avoiding a dumb fight is always a very good strategy and one of the best forms of self-defense.

As an old, gnarly dude-friend of mine used to say, “Masters don’t have to fight.  They just aren’t there.”

Here’s a poem I wrote after one minor motor-mouth incident.   (Like everybody else, I’m still working on it.)


OOPS!

 

Sometimes I forget

That golden, gleaming pride

Is all that holds some folks together,

The armor that surrounds

The layers of illusion wrapped

Around a heart too tender for

Exposure to the light of day

And the cold winds that

Blow out of the void,

A heart shrinking from the

Merest brush with uncertainty.

 

My bad.

 

I know that anger,

The anger of a quaking heart.

I know that samurai glare,

The one that’s meant to wither

And desolate the world,

A reminder of a warrior’s power

And glory on display,

A product of the Legend looming large.

 

Been there.

Done that.

 

Now thoughts of Ozymandias dance in my head,

Of stories that lie scattered and forgotten,

Covered by the sands of Time.

 

I’ve been buffeted too long, I think,

By winds of uncertainty.

I’ve grown calluses where my scared should be.

 

It’s one of those side effects of

Standing naked in the light,

One the wise guys neglect to tell you about:

You get so used to being scared that

It starts tasting like hot chocolate.

 

Sorry, eh?

I nevah mean for make you feel bad….

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture: “Conversation” by Vladimir Shioshvili via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
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PERSONAL BRANDING JAMMIN’ — TAKE 2

PERSONAL BRANDING JAMMIN’ — TAKE 2

Try it.  Google “personal branding.”

Wo.  See that?  The little search ‘bots retrieve 297 MILLION results!

Since leadership guru Tom Peters first presented the concept of marketing yourself and your career just like a brand in that article, “The Brand Called You” for Fast Company magazine in 1997, the thing has developed some legs and has taken off running in all directions.

Click this button to read the article its own self:click-here

A whole industry has grown up around the idea.  The multitude of human potential advice-mongers keeps telling us that mega-success comes from self-packaging and telling a better, hand-crafted story than the next guy.

FOCUSING ON THE GIFT-WRAPPING

Before Peters dropped the PB-bomb, typical do-it-yourself self-help management techniques that were bandied back and forth were about self-improvement and developing inner qualities of character and all that other old-school, boring stuff.

Now, it seems, it’s all about self-packaging and “controlling” your image and massaging your message.

One of the best YouTube videos I’ve seen about brand strategizing is this one, published in 2011 by BINA LA, featuring veteran marketer and brand promulgator Sasha Strauss, the founder and manager of the consulting firm, Innovation Protocol.  In it, he gives “$100,000 of Brand Strategy Advice” to a roomful of up-and-coming peeps.

It’s a wonderful, rollicking talk.  It touches on all the points about how, you too, can be a brand.  Woo-hoo!

(Notice, especially, that he says the big companies spend a heck of a lot of money and buy up a lot of people’s time and talent to work this thing.  Okay.  Onward.)

WHY “THEY” SAY IT SHOULD MATTER TO YOU

We keep getting bombarded by the same message:  We have to stand out from the crowd.

Repeatedly we are admonished:  We need to create buzz-i-ness.

We need to be seen.  Our ideas must be heard.  The social media – that insta-FB-tweet-post-pin algorithmic meta-dance — will take us to the place where we will be the Center of Attention.

And that, it says here, will get us to being showered by the Big, Big Bucks.

money
“Money” by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
We will be secure in the knowledge that when folks need something done, all this trumpet-blowing and drum-banging is going to mean that they will inevitably think of US.

We’ll be “Top-Of-Mind.”

This is because we are in control of our own story and the image we’ve inserted in other people’s minds.

(Then, of course, we can don our super-hero gear and go get ‘er done.)

PB jammin’ takes time, we are told.  It takes hard work.  It can cost a bunch too.  After all, there’s a heck of a lot of competition out there and they’re all doing the very same thing we are.

The noise level keeps rising.

And all of those stories are clashing and crashing together.  ACK!

REALLY, YOU GUYS?

It really has to make you wonder, though.

When everybody’s talking and trying to make their message louder and stronger and more and it’s all predicated on self-promotion and outshining the other guy, doesn’t that mean that it gets really hard to hold a normal, one-on-one conversation?

And if everybody’s shouting at each other, what do any of us actually hear?

If everybody is trying to “stand out,” doesn’t that mean that we are all sort of blending in?

In the analog world, a crowd of folks, each one trying to be more different and more avant-garde than the other guys probably end up looking sort of like a cosplay convention or maybe a Mardi Gras parade.  Right?

injured-jack
“Injured Jack” by David Morgan via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
I mean, it’s fun and all, but what’s the point?

All those guys in the white lab coats tell us that each of us humans are pretty much made up of the same bundle of needs and wants, strengths and vulnerabilities, patches of assorted bits of sanity and neuroses, and ordinary as well as extraordinary bits as every other human.

They tell us that our individual differences and eccentricities are often less noticeable than our collective similarities.

A punk rocker who “stands out” in a crowd of polka fans would just be a regular sort of guy in a punk rock concert crowd.

Since business and everyday living runs more smoothly where there is a “meeting of the minds,” it is probably a good thing that we are a lot more alike than not.

Still and all, we are not clones of one another.  Even minor differences of mindsets can cause major misses when two minds are trying to intersect.

M…M…M…MAYBE IT’S SORT OF RIGHT

It is certainly true that showcasing the parts of ourselves that we are particularly proud of is more likely to attract the attention of folks who are looking for those very qualities we most want to continue to use and grow.

I’m not saying that the PB-jammin’ dudes are wrong.

I am saying, however, that it isn’t the packaging that brings joy and gladdens the hearts of the recipients of a gift.

It is not the packaging that delivers on the promises made when you ask for somebody’s trust.

The packaging means squat when you are in the middle of the muck trying to knock out a solution to a gnarly problem.

gift-wrapped
“Gift Wrapped” by Matthew Kenwrick via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
What your customer wants to know, really, are two things:

  • Can you do the work well?
  • Will it solve their problem so they can get on with doing their own work?

The shiny party paper and pretty bow are nice, but, so what?  How much of your time is it worth?

It seems to me that your time would probably be better spent making sure that you really are doing the work that your customers need done the way they need it done and that you are developing better and better skills at doing it.

HEADS-UP, CONTROL FREAKS

The one thing most guys who are into promoting personal branding sort of gloss over is another truism:  You cannot control any other person’s perceptions of you or your story.

How they put together what you say is not in your control.  Remember that ubiquitous disclaimer, “Individual results may vary.”

You can round up and herd other people’s perceptions.  You can influence them.  Maybe you can even drill an image into someone else’s head.  Whatever.

perceptions
“Points of Perception” by vannio via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Know, however, that if you fail at delivering on your promises, none of the packaging stuff is going to matter one whit to your customers.

You will hear about it, and so will anybody within the reach of that social media thing you’re trying to game.

THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS

There are important questions embedded in that Tom Peters’ article, which was meant to be a wake-up call for those of us playing among the ranks of the corporate minion-hordes to break free from the need to conform to and in our workplaces.

questions
“Questions” by elycefeliz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Peters was giving us a heads-up about a basic truism, I think:  Conformity does not promote creativity.

He was trying to get us to understand that as contributors in the “new marketplace,” each of us is responsible for owning who we are on the deepest level.

He told us that we had to “cast aside all the usual descriptions that employees depend on to locate themselves in the company structure.”

Forget job title, he said.  Instead, ask yourself, ‘What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished, distinctive value?”

Forget your job description, he said.  Ask yourself, “What do I do that I am most proud of?”

For me, at least, the personal branding advice Peters was presenting in that article more than a dozen years ago was less about you being noticed by other people and more about what you do, the meaning it has for you, and why it has value for other people.

He tells you to ask yourself “the same questions that brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi or the Body shop ask themselves.”  Look at your product or service (and at your own self) and figure out what makes that product or service (or you) different from the run-of-the-mill in 15 words or less.

What specific features do the product or service (or you) have that benefits your customer better than anything else?

If your answer doesn’t “light up the eyes of a prospective client or command a vote of confidence from a satisfied past client, or – worst of all – if it doesn’t grab you,” Peters says, you have got a problem.

Basically, you don’t know why you’re doing what you do.

question-mark
“Question mark” by Kanser via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Applying the “feature-benefit model” to your own self, Peters suggests asking the following questions and he explains the benefits to the customers that arise from that feature:

  • Do you deliver your own work on time, every time? (Your internal or external customer gets dependable, reliable service that meets its strategic needs.)
  • Do you anticipate and solve problems before they become crises. (Your client saves money and headaches just by having you on the team.)
  • Do you always complete your projects within the allotted budget? (Cost overruns are not a help.)

Put together the answers to the feature-benefit model questions and the earlier ones about what you do that rings your own chimes.

Then, Peters says, ask yourself, “What do I want to be famous for?”

Doing all that helps you screw your head on right.  You will have figured out why your present and your prospective customers will probably like what you do.

You’re on your way to getting your story straight, which makes it a heck of a lot easier to live it.

There is a bunch of stuff in the article about how to call attention to your answers and conclusions once you’ve done the exercises.

Of course, there are.  The guy is a marketer-extraordinaire.

Maybe, though, that part is optional.

AN OLDER KIND OF PERSONAL BRANDING

Whenever I run across another of the “personal branding” motivational rants, I can hear my grandpa grunt, “Only wala’au (talk, talk, talk)…no CAN li’ dat.”

(Papa was a great believer in doing and solving problems.  Talking didn’t cut it for him when the results didn’t match the boasting.)

It was a reminder that wala’au is only air.

What counts, all the old guys said, are the results of the work of your hands and your mind.

these-hard-worked-hands
“These hard worked hands” by Carlos via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
It is an old-fashioned idea.  One that’s been around for a very long time.

Before there was a thing called “personal branding,” everybody worried and gnawed on the concept of “building a good reputation.”

Reputation is what people remember best about you, they said, and other people’s memories and the stories they tell about the way you walked along with them and others they know are what can make it a good one.

The thing that builds your reputation is the way you walk.

walk
“Walk” by Peter Blanchard via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

MEMORIES ARE LONG

Every once in a while, I am reminded of how long other people’s memories are.

The Light of My Life and I stopped into a private craft sale put together one Sunday morning by a group of local craftspeople in an outbuilding at the home of their friend and patron.  There were three painters, a journeyman photographer, a beginner jeweler, a masterly potter and a stone carver.

I knew the stone carver, Ho’aka, who used to hang around the booth at the hotel and festival craft shows that my late husband Fred (a self-taught, traditional Hawaiian stone-carver) and I used to set up to market Fred’s decidedly esoteric and traditional art form.

My part in all of that was to learn the stories of the ways the ancient ones worked with the stones and to explain how and why Fred tried to emulate their ways while he sat on a mat on the ground doing a stone-carving demonstration.

One of my best things was organizing little do-it-yourself stone polishing sessions where kids who visited our booth could take away a small, child hand-sized ‘ulumaika game stone that they had worked on themselves using one of the flat polishing stone boards I set up on mats around our space.

Another activity involved print-making by pressing acrylic paint-covered carved stones onto torn rectangles of crafts paper.

Guided by the pictures in the old books I’d found, Fred carved ancient-style petroglyphs onto those stones. The kids loved the results when they played with the stones.

rainbow-chief-petroglyph-stone
“Rainbow Chief” carved by Fred A. K. Kanoho

I made simple display boards, wrote up the mo’olelo (stories), and wowed the visitors to our booth with cultural tales during a time when the Hawaiian cultural renaissance was just starting to grow.

It was timely, and we sure had a lot of fun with it.

After Fred’s death, Ho’aka went on to find master traditional stone carvers in the islands, apprenticing himself to them.  He got good at working stones.

As the Light of My Life and I were leaving, Ho’aka gave me the highest compliments one local can give another.

He told me, “Netta, I want you to know.  We remember.  We remember how you told the stories.  We remember how you guys kept the stories alive.  We remember….”

Twenty years after that chapter in my life had ended, I was given this gift.

It made me cry…and the funny part was that what he said other people remembered was not what I thought I was doing.

Here’s a poem:


I’M FAMOUS

HEY!

Look-a-me!

I am FAMOUS!

EVERYBODY says so…

All the them that’s in the know.

(If YOU don’t know, then who are you?)

Me, I am famous!

 

HEH-HEH!

Look-a-me!

Watch me twist and twirl,

Gyrating in the swirl

Of Other People’s noticing,

Glowing in the spotlight

Incandescent like a mirror-ball.

I am famous!  Me!

 

HO-WOW!

Look-a-me!

Hey…look-a-me, look-a-me!

Hey, hey…why’d you stop?

Don’t you like me any more?

Gee…don’t you know?

I’m famous!

 

Ummm…where’d you go?

 

Awww….

They’re all gone.

There’s nobody looking.

Guess I’m done, my race all run,

Washed-up, a has-been…

Me…

The formerly famous.

created by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit: “Dying Fire” by Frank Crisanti 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.

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JOIN THE LONGEVITY REVOLUTION

JOIN THE LONGEVITY REVOLUTION

In America, dating since the original Social Security Act of 1935, retirement and making it intact to the “Golden Years,” (when you are supposedly free to stop working and “enjoy” lazing around in the little bit of life span you have left once you stop working) has been a gold-standard goal.

gold-watch
“Gold Watch” by Tim Ellis via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
The paradigm among the “human resource” contingent of the time, was that you’d be a tired, shopworn bit of humanity and could be sidelined like a piece of obsolete old equipment that was still in working order but kind of irrelevant.

It made a horrible sort of sense, that — especially after the rise of the Industrial Revolution when people were often seen as interchangeable parts in an ever-more-efficient system of production and productivity.

Young people were encouraged (and even brow-beaten) into going for and hanging on to “secure” and possibly meaningless-to-them jobs and to diligently squirrel away the nickels and pennies that were left over from paying for the lives they were living in order to build up a retirement fund for the winter of their life.

THE WHOPPING BIG ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

There is only one problem.

Since the retirement thing was first conceived in the early 1880’s by Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck of Germany – the first-of-its-kind social insurance program — all the smarty pants in labs and such have been pushing our physical envelopes.

We are now living longer and longer lives thanks to all of the advances in medicine and technology.  People are living decades after the official start of the “Golden Years.”

It has been one of the major societal goals of every culture, after all.  Who doesn’t want to live long and prosper?

god-of-longevity
“Shouxing – Chinese god of longevity” by Anne Petersen via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
When the then-new concept of “retirement” was first proposed, our human lifespans were not much more than three-score and ten.  It was expected that your body’s expiration date was about 70 or so years after you checked into this world.

Therefore, it was assumed that if you retired at 65 it was quite likely that you’d fall over dead very shortly thereafter.  The social program that helped you live your life as an old person was sustainable, it was thought.

It sort of worked for a while, but that’s no longer happening.

Now there’s a whole generation of older folks wondering whether whatever stack of money they’ve hoarded (if they ever got around to it during their “active” years) will last long enough and, for sure, the government subsidy thing keeps on shrinking as the cost of living heads on up.

The bills don’t stop during the “Golden Years.”  You still have to eat and you still need a roof over your head and your body…well, it’s been lived-in.

It breaks down.  Maintenance costs.

And, even more depressing, we’ve all figured out that people can really get bored spending twenty-some years slouching around doing nothing much.

Frankly, the so-called freedom of not-working sucks.

A new freedom is beginning to replace it as the Ultimate Goal:  the freedom to find and keep working at something that holds meaning for you.

ON TO ANOTHER PLAN

For the past twenty years and more author and social entrepreneur Marc Freedman has been working on fostering the idea of the “encore career,” a second vocation in the latter half of one’s life.

The idea dates from 1997 or 1998, when Freedman’s San Francisco-based nonprofit called Civic Ventures (since renamed Encore.org) introduced the notion.

Freedman’s non-profit developed into an innovation hub bent on “tapping the talent of people over 50+ as a force for good.”

By the time he gave the following talk at TEDxDrexelU in 2013, Freedman had co-founded “Experience Corps,” mobilizing thousands of Americans over 55 to improve the education of low-income elementary children.

He was spearheading the presentation of the Purpose Prize, an annual $100,000 award for social innovators in the second half of life.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) now runs both of these programs.

Freedman was also the author of four books about encore careers and the longevity revolution and a tireless proselytizer about the value of utilizing skills developed over a long career to help society.

In his talk, which was published in 2013 by TEDxTalks, Freedman pointed out that people are living longer and the old Golden Years plan is no longer working so well.

Since that talk, Encore.org has developed the Encore Fellowships program, a one-year fellowship helping individuals translate their midlife skills into “second acts” focused on social impact as well as the Encore Network, a coalition of leaders and organizations that help people turn those longer lives into an asset.

Freedman and his colleagues have written other books and continued to develop programs.

The concept has taken off.  Millions of older adults, aged 50 years and older, are working on delving into and developing a “second act” as the end of their primary careers draws closer.

A 2009 video published by Encore.org, “Timothy Will, 2009 Purpose Prize Winner” is a moving presentation by one of the winners of the organization’s Purpose Prize who leveraged his experience and skills into a way to help his Appalachian neighbors get back to the land.

The video was one of many.

The encore career has become a way to combine personal passion, social purpose and a paycheck, as Freedman is wont to say.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE RESOURCES GATHERED TOGETHER AND DEVELOPED BY ENCORE.ORG:

click-here

The upshot of all of this is that Freedman has been marvelously successful at instigating the Longevity Revolution.  Many others have taken up the banner as well.

Opting for an encore career has become a trend, even a movement.

Many baby-boomers and others who’ve reached (or are approaching) retirement age choose to do some other thing that fulfills their need to grow and to continue to engage with the world as well as to help pay the bills that just keep on coming.

A CONFESSION:  I GOT SIDE-TRACKED

Instead of getting more deeply into the nuts and bolts of this very interesting topic, I was side-tracked — sucked into a book written by master storyteller Jim May, TRAIL GUIDE FOR A CROOKED HEART:  Stories and Reflections for Life’s Journey.

This quintessentially human book is soul-satisfying, meandering through stories from May’s personal life (with lots of old wisdom-tales thrown in) that present us humans in all our glory and flat-footed stubborn.

More than anything else, it illuminates the value and the uplifting power of Story in our human journeys.

After working in construction, then becoming a teacher and a counselor, May gave in to his passion for telling a good story, following a family tradition that produced many a fine raconteur.

For more than 25 years, as a professional storyteller, May presented stories at story-telling festivals and events that drew tale-spinners from around the country together in the United States, Canada and Europe.

He’s appeared at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee four times and has participated in England’s oldest and most respected folk festivals at Towersey and Sidmouth.

One of his favorite things was appearing on the Studs Terkel radio show in Chicago.

In 2000 May was named by his peers to the Circle of Excellence, the highest of honors for the storytellers in the National Storytelling Network.  Before that, he won a Chicago Emmy for a WTTW-Channel 11 production of his original short story, “A Bell for Shorty.”

The man is good.

The following YouTube video, published by JustStoriesVideo in 2012, features Jim May remembering the day that Holocaust survivor and president of the Illinois Holocaust Memorial Foundation Lisa Derman died of a massive heart attack onstage at the Illinois Storytelling Festival while she was telling her story of survival.

It is a moving tribute as well as a testimonial for the power of Story.

ON-TRACK ONCE AGAIN (SORT OF)

It occurred to me after I had digested all of this, that May is also a fine example of a person who developed a personally satisfying encore career that worked well for him.

The thing he exemplifies is what happens when you look for (and find) another Why to live, and then do it well.

In the video honoring Lisa Derman, May mentions in passing his belief in the value of the wisdom of elders – wisdom that is part and parcel of the stories they tell.

Throughout history, in every culture, the stories the old people tell link the young ones to the procession of ancestors.  They present ages-old human dilemmas as well as solutions and guidelines about strategies and actions that have worked in the past.

an-elder-speaks
“An Elder Speaks (Whaea Kātarina Daniels, Te Ū Hui-ā-motu),” by New Zealand Tertiary Education Union via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
These wisdom stories can be an enormous help to someone who is looking for clarity or a new direction.

One of the chapters in May’s book starts with a quote from James Hillman in his book, THE FORCE OF CHARACTER: And the Lasting Life, a stunning reflection about life’s second half:

“The final years have a very important purpose:  The fulfillment and confirmation of one’s character.  When we open our imaginations of the idea of the ancestor, aging can free us from convention and transform us into a force of nature, releasing our deepest beliefs for the benefit of society.”

That chapter in May’s book is titled, “Signal Trees.”  In it he tells stories about the mentors and elders that he is grateful to for their stories, their wisdom and their support.

THE THING ABOUT SIGNAL TREES

Signal trees are said to be a Native American way of shaping tree saplings to mark significant locations.

According to the lore surrounding the signal trees, they are a part of a navigational system through the forests and waterways of northeastern and southeastern tribes throughout North America.

The manipulated trees, we are told, mark sacred gathering places, trails that were important, a fresh water source off a main route, indications of deposits of flint, copper, lead and other minerals important for medicinal and ceremonial purposes as well as portage points and linkages to other major trails

The three-tonged bur oak tree in the header picture is considered to be an Indian Signal Tree.  It’s even labeled by a bronze plaque, even though there is still some mystery surrounding its purpose.

The button below takes you to a Summit Metro Parks article that explains more about the tree and about signal trees in general.

click-here

As May points out in his book, if you’ve lived your life well, age gives you gifts – patience, tolerance, resilience, a long-term perspective, varied life-experiences and well-developed skills — that are worth sharing with those who come after you.

And that is the point of this new Longevity Revolution:  You, too, can become a signal tree.

An encore career has been described as “a new chapter of work,” something you move on into after you have spent many years at one kind of work, often quite successfully.

The encore career can be a deepening and broadening of the career you’ve already built, using the stockpile of skills you’ve mastered and the lessons your experiences have taught you that will allow you to reach a different level in your field as a self-employed freelancer and entrepreneur, a consultant, a coach, or a mentor.

It might be about you finally starting out doing your own passion your own way and finding ways and opportunities to keep on playing in this new field that enriches your life and fills it with meaning.

An encore career could be a position as a volunteer supporting some solution to the social ills around us or toward fostering some good thing you want to see grow.

It can also be a way to stay active and to feel useful.

And, of course, an encore career very often is a way to help fund your “Golden Years.”

For whatever reason, the encore career has become a significant and growing economic trend and movement that the baby-boomers are spearheading these days, it seems.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The following YouTube video, “Encore Careers:  From Social Trend to Social Movement,” was published in 2012 by NextAgenda as a promotional piece.

What’s even more interesting is the more recent development featured in this next video, “Encore Careers: How to Find Your Perfect Job At Any Age,” published by The List Show TV in 2018.  It features Jared Cotter of The List, the national Emmy award-winning show that looks at pop culture and currently trending ideas.

The Longevity Revolution continues to grow and spread.  It’s even crossed generational lines.

Here’s a poem I made honoring a friend who wandered through a series of foster homes in her youth.  She made her baby dreams come real and her life is now one of great joy for her and for the ones she embraces.


ORPHAN CHILD

Orphan child stands apart,

Always the stranger,

Unfettered, untied.

The wanderer has

No place to lay her weary head,

No place that enfolds her, no warm, no light.

No one tucks her away from the cold, the dark.

 

She tells herself she’ll make her own place,

A place where all the dispossessed,

The abandoned ones,

Can come and find

Someone who sees them as they are,

Someone who is not afraid to hold them in the dark,

Someone who loves them even though they are not like

All the other ones – the orderly ones who march

All in a line, step by step,

Trying really hard to all be the same.

 

In her place, there will be no fear

Of hard eyes and cold mouths,

Tearing your heart to bits,

Unerringly finding the sore places

With tongues of ice and fire.

All of those demons will be exorcised away.

She’ll send them to some other place

Where they can play their games

With others of their own kind.

(She won’t leave them to wander

Like refugees in the night.)

 

Cruelty will be banished

In the laughter and the joy

Of seeing ones who reach out

To hold you warm and safe.

That’s what she says, anyway.

And we will play, she says,

Oh, how we will play:

Games of beauty, games of grace,

Gales of laughter and soft, loving tears

From hearts that overflow.

 

It could happen. 

Yes, it could.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Akron Signal Tree” by Greg Habermann via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

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